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2020 National Women's Conference
24 October 2019

From late 2008, the UK Government set out a programme of austerity that has continued for over 10 years. Cuts in public spending have been shown to have particular impact on certain groups in society. In 2011, 270,000 public sector jobs were cut as austerity measures started to bite. Research from the Runnymede Trust and Women�s Budget Group in 2016 showed that women, people of colour and particularly women of colour were impacted by job cuts, as they were more likely to be employed in the public sector, be in low-paid jobs and insecure work, and have higher levels of unemployment. The unemployment budget was frozen, which has led to increased difficulties due to rising inflation. Benefit claimants affected by budget cuts and sanctions led to increased use of food banks, with over one million people in the UK using a food bank between 2014 and 2015. With an increase in zero hour contracts, part time work and low paid work, there is a new generation of working poor who are also dependent on benefits.Universal Credit and the draconian welfare cuts imposed on working people, as well as those in search of employment or that due to ill health are unable to work, are having a devastating effect on women. They create more problems, pushing women and their families into povertyIn Northern Ireland, the 500 million mitigation package established by the Northern Ireland Executive against welfare cuts is set to run out in March 2020, and its expiration could have dire consequences for women living in poverty, leading to a �cliff edge� unless alternative arrangements are put in place urgently. Working mothers in Northern Ireland further struggle to access affordable childcare. In Northern Ireland we have the highest weekly expenditure on childcare and therefore the highest weekly childcare element of Child Tax Credits. As Universal Credit payments are paid in arrears of up to 5 weeks, this places greater financial burdens on families accessing childcare. Children in Northern Ireland do not receive up to 30 hours of childcare as is the case in other regions, creating deep unfairness that results in negative impacts on women.We are calling on the National Women�s Committee to campaign on the following issues:1) To avoid the �cliff-edge� of the ending of welfare mitigations in Northern Ireland in March 2020;2) To end practices where victims of the crime, domestic violence and abuse must choose whether they can survive with no money for at least 5 weeks, maybe with children, or stay with abuser;. 3) To scrap the disgraceful two-child benefit cap, which is neglecting our children, pushing women into deeper poverty and creating inequalities within families;4) The vile �Rape Clause� must be removed as it forces women to disclose or lose benefits, when women in violent relationships are not in a position to do so. Benefit officers are not equipped to process disclosures on rape or violent sexual crime and do not have capacity to manage these disclosures; 5) For affordable, accessible, high quality childcare in Northern Ireland, including the 30 hours childcare that is available in other parts of the UK.