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What can each party offer women and disabled voters?

Published: 5 May 2015

With polls predicting that this will be the closest election in recent history, and that many voters still undecided, Kirstein Rummery discusses how women and disabled people could make a significant difference. This post appeared in today's edition of The National.

More than nine million eligible women didn’t vote in the last UK General Election, and there are 11 million disabled people and six million carers.

Women, particularly carers and lone parents, have suffered disproportionately under the coalition. Lone parents in particular have lost around 16 per cent of their income. Cuts to benefits and social care have cost the average disabled person over £6,000 annually.

On women, the SNP and Greens have an anti-austerity stance that would protect more public sector workers and services, and women are the main workers in, and users of, public services.

Support for quotas on boards, equal representation in political and public life and for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament are aimed at voters who think gender equality is better served by Holyrood than Westminster – although the evidence on this is mixed, at best.

Certainly radical and grassroots organisations such as Women for Independence and Radical Independence support the idea that equalities would be better served in an independent Scotland.

Labour are pushing for companies to publish information on the gender pay gap, strengthen rights to maternity leave, raise the minimum wage and abolish zero-hours contracts, are all measures designed to appeal to working women – particularly low-paid women. Harriet Harman’s pink election bus drew criticism, but there is evidence women-only spaces and women-focussed campaigns can make a difference, both to political participation and electoral behaviour.

However, they will retain work capability assessments and are committed to austerity cuts which will impact on services for the disabled and carers, and the effect of this will be felt disproportionately by women.

The Conservatives do not have much aimed specifically at women apart from National Carer’s Break guarantee and childcare pledges – but rumours about taxing carers’ benefits will be of concern.

The LibDems are offering shared parental leave, gender pay audits, increasing women’s participation in paid work and gender equality measures.

With the attack on welfare benefits for disabled people underpinning the austerity regime imposed by the coalition government, their 11 million votes should count now more than anything. All the parties bar the Greens have pledged to continue with efforts to “make work pay”, get more disabled people off benefits into work, and impose welfare sanctions – despite evidence that this does not work in getting people into work, and poses a risk to the physical and mental health of disabled people and their families. Even the Department of Work and Pensions admit many suicides are attributable to the withdrawal of benefits.

So, while it is not clear who to vote for, if you care about gender and disability equality, you probably should vote – as yours is the loudest unheard voice in this election.

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