Feminism is a movement that calls for equality, not just between the sexes but between all members of society. Maggie Thatcher may have been the first female Prime Minister, but she couldn’t have done a worse job of proving women can lead the country. Through her promotion of self-interest and greed, she missed her chance as a female in power to uphold feminist values. She might be dead now but Thatcherism is still alive and kicking, as Cameron leads the way back to a society where whole communities are forgotten and the rich take priority, whatever the consequences for the poor.
We are living in a country where cuts to vital services threaten to destroy our welfare system and leave people with nowhere to turn. I bite my lip scrolling through statistics which should be on the front page of every newspaper but are tactfully replaced with articles about apparent benefit fraud. Homelessness is an issue which has always been hushed into the background. Countless times I have witnessed the homeless appear invisible in the busy streets as consumers bypass an inconvenient beggar.
Homeless charity Crisis say that “5678 people slept rough on London’s streets last year”. Given that the number of rough sleepers has risen by 23% in the last year, the already urgent current situation is only getting worse. Crisis claims that “the cuts introduced by the Coalition Government will lead to an increase in homelessness.” The cuts which are slashing their way through people’s lives, in true Thatcher style, are only increasing the already unfair divide between our countries rich and poor. With the very real threat of homelessness comes not just serious health scares but a devastating effect on mortality, Crisis funded research which found that “The average age of death of a homeless person is 47 (43 for homeless women), compared to 77 for the general population.”
Many women are homeless due to escaping domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone to support them if they end up in this situation. Although there are some great charities out there which offer support, it’s easy to fall through the net when the government itself does not provide adequate resources.
Statistics show that there has been a significant decrease in services offered to women suffering from domestic abuse and homelessness. Nicola Harwin, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, says “many homeless women have experienced domestic and sexual violence and are not only homeless because of that abuse, but are often revictimised in their attempts to keep a roof over their heads – forced to trade sex for somewhere to sleep or the promise of safety.” This shows the vicious cycle that some women become caught in.
The deep rooted issues behind this destructive catch 22 lie within age old inequalities between the sexes and a patriarchal society where profit is put before the needs of the people. Even when the country was led by a woman, she still held the same torch which burns only for the rich.
The Prime Minister can have his many uninhabited rooms of his spare country manor, the rich can keep their holiday homes which are visited once a year and there are 710, 000 empty homes in England whilst thousands go homeless. But who is it that will be penalised for the current housing crisis? Those who receive housing benefit because they cannot afford to pay rent.
This month new restrictions are being made to those who receive housing benefit, called ‘the bedroom tax’, this means that benefits will be cut by 14% for those who are deemed to have a “spare” room in their home and by 25% if they have more than one “spare” room available. Single parents will lose housing benefits for a “spare” room that their visiting child/children would stay in and disabled people will be expected to pay extra for any extra rooms they need due to their impairing condition.
The harsh reality of this is that many people are going to have to choose between paying rent and buying food. Family homes will be lost and the most unfortunate will be left with nowhere to go. These cuts will be on top of cuts to Council Tax Benefits, reduction in the Maternity Grant, Child Benefit Rates frozen for 3 years, child tax credits reduced, childcare costs reduced; a cross-the-board real term cut of 4% in all benefits.
Whatever your gender, age, sexuality, or any other identity shaping labels, the UK is facing difficult times and the cuts cannot be ignored. Apathy will only make it easier for the coalition government to take away every service that matters, we need to get some of the unstoppable determination of the Suffragettes and make sure we fight for what is ours.
This is exactly what Lee Halpin was doing when he set out to create a documentary which would highlight these issues. A creative and culturally switched on individual from Newcastle Upon Tyne, who had a fearless approach to investigative journalism intended to spend the week roughing it in the streets, in order to make a documentary raising awareness about homelessness. He wanted to put himself in the shoes of a homeless person and experience with authenticity what it is like to be living without any fixed residence.
In a tragic turn of events, he befell the same fate of many homeless people and was found dead in a derelict building on the third night. To follow his project, which friends are going to continue in order to reach his ambition of getting the gruelling truth out there and take a stand, visit and share this site http://steppingoutsidefilm.wordpress.com/.
Let’s be the change we want to see in the world.
Oh, and, RIP Margaret Thatcher, thanks for teaching us all how not to run the country.