Hands up if you want to scream or vomit every time you see Will & Kate merchandise, yet another product using the Jubilee as a marketing hook, union jack bunting, or instructions on how to host the ‘perfect’ street party. Everyone seems to be falling over themselves to talk about the wonder that is the queen, the ‘hardest working grandmother in Britain’ who represents great value for money to the taxpayer. At least during the silver jubilee there was an antidote to this royalist propaganda in the mainstream in the form of the Sex Pistols with their ‘God save the queen/ the fascist regime… ‘ Thirty five years later (by which time you would have thought the monarchy would have been abolished), this jubilee is reported with such slavish attention that completely marginalises the anti-monarchy sentiment and campaigning.
I was at the UK Uncut Great British Street Party a week ago. Some have criticised the protest as ‘kitsch nationalism.’ For me, it was not only a fun day surrounded by like-minded activists expressing what we feel about what is happening to this country but also a way to subvert what was to take place a week later. By taking part in something that mimicked the jubilee street parties (but thankfully without the union jacks), I was not only making anti-cuts statement but also an anti monarchist one.
An unprecedented attack on the welfare state, the most inhumane and brutal spending targets that seem designed to hit with greatest force those who are least able to withstand them, and most of our media attention and an entire 4 days of our lives (not to mention the weeks and months beforehand) are focused on someone who has been head of the state with official control over our government, legislature, courts, justice system and armed forces for the past 60 years because she happened to be born first (with no brothers to follow) into a family that, through a flukish twist of marriage and infertility of distant relatives, were on the throne at the time she was born.
At the same time that the nation’s attention is fixated on this weekend and the sixty years before, the impact of the government’s economic policy on the rest of the women of the country is barely reported or discussed. The cuts have been shown to be affecting the already most vulnerable and marginalised the most, women and black communities disproportionately so. Women make up 80% of those who have lost their jobs in recent months. There has been a £3m cut to the black sector in social care funding alone in England which has been described as ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ Research published recently found that 44% of black disabled people live in household poverty, compared with 32% of all disabled people and 17% of the population as a whole.
Black women, already living in poverty and experiencing less access to rights, face a double hit. In 2009, research found that black women are more likely to be poor and experience multiple forms of inequality and discrimination. 40% of black women live in poverty and 52.8% of black women are unemployed. This is only likely to get worse.
The cuts will have a specifically dangerous impact on marginalised and vulnerable black women who need protection from violence, abuse and persecution within family and community. What is happening to violence against women services is devastating. Specialist refuges and other services for black women, essential to meet the full range of the needs of black women, are disappearing fast. These services not only provide much needed advice, support and refuge but have been at the forefront of struggles against race, class and gender discrimination and inequality. In Bradford, the council is diverting resources from the poorer south of the city where most black women live to the north where black women will not be able to go to access services.
As specialist services disappear, those that remain are receiving more and more women coming to them for help – because the places they could have gone to before are disappearing. In addition, these women are experiencing increasingly more vulnerabilities, for example experiencing violence while not having immigration status or access to public funds with services could have supported them, such as housing and legal aid, being increasingly cut. This will only be exacerbated by changes to immigration policy and access to legal aid. There are more women and it takes longer to offer support to each woman. At the same time, getting funding to keep going is becoming more and more difficult with more time needed to complete the funding application after funding report required while the amount of funding received decreases.
Even two years ago, with only ¾ of the bed spaces needed to fulfil that needed by the women coming for help, what we had was far from enough. Funding to services that prevent and protect women from violence was cut by 31% between 2010/ 2011 and 2011/2012. Research in March 2011 found that 1 in 5 women’s groups had already closed and many more faced an uncertain future with 60% of refuges and 72% of outreach services having no funding in place from April 2011. Over a year later, this has already happened.
These services save lives. The places to where women experiencing domestic and sexual violence, rape, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and dowry related abuse can turn are vanishing. Women’s Aid had to turn away 230 women a day in 2011 – that’s 230 women fleeing violence turned away every single day in one year by one charity. And what happens to these women when they go to refuges and advice centres and find out they no longer exist or that there is no space? They sleep on night buses, in internet cafes or anywhere else that is warm and free or return to abuse. A friend of mine told me last week of a client who was turned away from a refuge and went home and was then raped by her ex-partner. When all of this is happening, why has the focus of the media and the politicians been on making us feel like we have to celebrate this weekend? The jubilee is a national sedative that diverts attention in fervour of patriotism and feudal style loyalty. We need to focus on what we can do to safeguard and empower the millions of women who are vulnerable, marginalised and overlooked rather the one that is the most powerful and privileged.
This piece was first published on Black Feminists on 3rd June 2012.