Report cover of the Getting off Lightly or Feeling the Pinch reportLast year Coventry Women’s Voices along with the Centre for Human Rights in Practice launched Getting off lightly or feeling the pinch? a human rights and equality impact assessment of the public spending cuts on women in Coventry.  The report had two main conclusions:

First we challenge the myth that older people have ‘got off lightly’ from the public spending cuts. When we first started talking about doing this report several people asked me why we were looking at older women. They pointed to the universal benefits that have not yet been affected by spending cuts – free bus passes, winter fuel allowance and so on – and suggested that actually older women had not been that badly hit, compared to other groups.

Now it is true that some benefits for older people have not been cut. And it is also true that older people have not faced cuts to welfare benefits on the scale faced by families who have been severely hit by cuts to tax credits and local housing allowance. However it is important to remember two things.

Firstly that cuts to welfare are only one part of public spending cuts. We have also seen significant cuts to spending on public services. And when you look at cuts to health, social care or transport these have had a major impact on older people and older women in particular. Research published by the women’s budget group showed that women single pensioners will lose services equivalent to nearly 12% of their income, compared to the loss for the average household of 6.8%

Secondly although pensioner poverty has fallen in the last ten years significant numbers of older women are still living in poverty. One in five women pensioners is living on or below the Government’s poverty line. Among Asian pensioner households 31% are living in poverty and this goes up to 38% of pensioners of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin. Many more women pensioners are surviving just above that poverty line, struggling to cope with the rising costs of food and fuel which have gone up far faster than pensions have increased. For these women even very small cuts in income or small increases in prices can tip them into poverty.

Our second main conclusion is that the cuts are likely to have a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of some of the poorest and most vulnerable women. And the impact will be particularly bad for disabled women, carers and BAME women.

Cuts to health and social care services risk reducing the level and quality of care available to older women. This will combine with the additional stress caused by cancellation of appointments, increased waiting times and additional caring responsibilities and risks damaging the physical and mental health of many older women.

Cuts to transport services will make it harder for women to access vital health services. They may also increase isolation among some older women, which will impact on their mental health.

Cuts to some welfare benefits combined with the increased costs of food and fuel and additional costs because of cuts to spending on transport and social care will push more people into poverty. For women of working age increased unemployment will also lead to increased poverty. There is a strong link between poverty and ill health.

Cuts to advice and support services will increase social isolation. Legal aid cuts will make it harder for women to get the benefits and services they need.

Some groups of older women will be particularly vulnerable.

If you think about a disabled older woman in her early sixties for example. If she isn’t working she may face an assessment to see if she is entitled to Employment Support Allowance. These assessments are so deeply flawed that appeals have a success rate of 40%, even higher if someone has legal advice or representation. She may face losing Disability Living Allowance. At the same time as a possible cut in income she may face particularly high costs for heating and or special diets. Increased poverty may mean she goes without food or heat that she needs, which could have a severe impact on her physical and mental health.

She will be more likely to use health services and so will be affected by increased waiting times, cancellation of appointments and a reduction in staff. There is already evidence of poor treatment of disabled older women in some parts of the health service. Any cuts to staff numbers or training are make this more likely. Last minute cancellation of appointments can cause practical and financial problems for disabled older women who may have had to organise transport. Cuts to social care and increased charges will particularly affect disabled older women. There is already evidence of very low standards of care in some parts of the country as the time allowed for visits has been cut.

Changes to bus routes may cause problems for women who cannot walk to a new bus stop. A disabled woman who does not automatically qualify for the new Ring and Ride service may still find it impossible to use public transport particularly with shopping. This may mean increased costs if she has to use a taxi or increased isolation if she can’t afford one.

Cuts to voluntary services will mean less support and advice so less ability to challenge what is happening.

In human rights terms these cuts taken together may impact on women’s; right to a private life, right to health, right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment and even right to life.

A free bus pass does not mean that older women are getting off lightly.

Posted on April 26th, 2013 by Mary-Ann Stephenson filed under: Blog