As the Tories assemble today for their conference, in substantial disarray of their own making, nowhere have they screwed up so conclusively as in their policies towards women. The new Tory Minister for Women, Maria Miller, has just told us she’s keen to lower the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks. At least that’s better than Jeremy Hunt, the new Tory Minister for Health, who wants to halve it to 12 weeks. Earlier this month stiff resistance from the UK Tory government forced the European Commission to drop its proposal for quotas on EU company boards to ensure that 40% of non-executive board seats are occupied by women, as opposed to 14% at present. Also this month it was revealed that the latest UK unemployment figures show a huge increase in joblessness among women over 50, far more than for any other group. And then there’s the treadmill of cuts fast coming down the line.
The drastic cuts in disability benefits which will strike families from next April onwards will hit women hardest. The cutbacks in social care for the elderly, child care and Sure Start again mainly victimise women. The steep increase in public sector job losses has affected women twice as much as men. The artificial ceiling on housing benefit and the bedroom tax which will uproot families and force them to move (though where to?) will be mainkly aimed at women. The list goes on.
According to the latest Ipsos Mori poll, Labour’s lead over the Tories has now stretched to no less than 28% (53% compared with the Tories’ 25%). Given that women are half the electorate, that alone could decide the election. The normal advice to politicians and parties in deep trouble is to stop digging. When it comes to women, the Tories seem obsessively and ruinously unable to take it.