Speech in full from today’s conference.

It’s a privilege to be asked to speak at the Woman’s Aid Conference, particularly during White Ribbon 16 days of action and especially here in my own ward of Irvine. 

Here in North Ayrshire, all of the agencies involved in tackling violence against women have been working in partnership since 2000.  The partnership is composed of members from North Ayrshire Council, Women’s Aid, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Police Scotland, Procurator Fiscals office, Victim Support and Break the Silence.  Our work together has been based on a shared understanding of what is meant by violence against women and has allowed for positive collaboration between services, particularly at an operational level. 

The Multi Agency Domestic Abuse Response Team (MADART) are a great example of this joint working.  Based at Kilmarnock police station the team comprises Social Services, housing and police personnel and works in partnership with a range of services including: addictions, health, welfare rights, women’s aid and the Scottish children’s reporter.  Working together the team have improved the response to domestic abuse incidents ensuring that it is quick, proportionate and effective which means the best, most timely support for victims.

 Last night the partnership successfully launched our White Ribbon 16 days campaign with a really well attended event in Irvine town centre – male supporters from our partner organisations, local sports clubs, the media and community came together for a candle lit vigil and to pledge support creating the wonderful banner you see at the white ribbon stand. “These hands are not for hurting”  After the first half hour of our event, we had to send someone out for more pledge slips as we had ran out – in just half an hour over 100 men and boys had signed up pledging to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW in all it’s forms.

The scale of the problem we face here in North Ayrshire is well documented, we are realistic about the challenges we have here but we also recognise the good work that is ongoing to improve things for women and children. 
I have to say, it really was heartening to see so many in our community willing to stand up and be counted last night.  We have many good male role models here in North Ayrshire and we will continue to encourage them to lead by example.

I’m feeling like I am amongst friends, so I am going to be completely honest with you all and admit to being a little daunted by the title of our conference today, of course interested to listen to the experts and very excited to see the Young Voices DVD but not entirely sure I could do the topic “The economics of gender based violence” justice.

I’m neither an Economist or an academic so today I’d like to talk a little from a perspective I am comfortable with a political one…now before everyone runs for the door I don’t mean party politics or even constitutional politics (although I can confess to having that on my mind today!)

For me, politics is simply values, priorities – how we think things should be organised, who we work with and how we work to make our community, country, world better.
Our Public services are all operating in a landscape of challenging economic times – there’s no use pretending otherwise, but we do still have choices, challenging and uncomfortable sometimes but choices none the less. 

The changes to welfare benefits driven by Westminster affect many households here as they do all over the country.  I’m sure you all share my concern for the impact that these changes have on vulnerable women and children and some of you might even join me in questioning the rationale behind the changes – the values and priorities of those who instigate them.  I can’t disagree with the statement that work should pay.  But to achieve that I would see decent wages, affordable homes and accessible, flexible, quality childcare (provided by people paid decent wages) as a priority not simply slicing a chunk off the budget that provides social protection for those that need it. 

We know that women are losing out in a direct financial sense from the changes already introduced and other planned changes through their role as carers to children and indeed because certain benefits are typically paid to women.  Child benefit, child tax credits and the Childcare element of Working Tax Credit are paid to the main carer of children usually a woman. (In April 2013, 83% of in-work couples receiving Child Tax Credits had a female payee.)

Although not with us for the moment Universal credit looms on the horizon.  For all the attention that the pernicious Bedroom tax has received, it is universal credit which I fear has the most sinister implications.  Women will lose out because of how it is structured being paid in one single household payment. 

Control being the “overarching behavioural characteristic” of abusive men this concentration of financial resource and power in the hands of one person is hugely problematic. 

In households where it is paid to the man, this will result in a loss of independent income for the women.  There’s also a terrible stench around all this of a return to the “male breadwinner” type model in our homes another step back for equality and of course In cases of domestic violence what this does is gift the perpetrator command of the household income, further enabling them to control and isolate their partners. 

Welfare reform has a substantial impact on women.  Women form a substantial proportion of the caseload of many benefits and are disproportionately affected by changes to these benefits as a result. 

Money provided to women is more likely spent on children’s needs than money allocated to men, therefore this approach will also reduce spending on children.  These reforms simply fail to acknowledge the link between women’s’ poverty and child poverty.  Last week, giving evidence to the Scottish Parliaments health committee, the Child Poverty Action Group said there are currently one in five of Scotland’s children who are officially recognised as living in poverty, they told MSPs that independent modelling forecasts “massive increases in child poverty”.

As well as the welfare reforms, women are also affected more as a result of general spending cuts.  Women make up the majority of the public sector workforce making them more vulnerable to public sector job cuts, pay freezes and reductions in working hours.  Women are more likely to use publically provided services making them more vulnerable to cuts to these services.  Additionally voluntary organisations providing services for women and employing women are also likely to see funding cuts.  As women take on more care responsibilities than men, spending cuts to care and support services are likely to result in additional care burdens for women.
I said at the start politics is about choices, values and priorities.  When we fail to recognise or choose to ignore gender impact when making economic decisions, women pay the price.  And when women suffer we all suffer, our children suffer our communities suffer, our country, our world.  We must find a way to do things differently and let the decisions we make reflect the value we place on women’s contribution more.

The cost of ignoring women is quite simply too high to pay.

Events like today are crucial in bringing gender impact to the fore of debate, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here.  

I really look forward to listening to and learning from our expert speakers today – thank you for listening.