The past year has been challenging. But it has proven exceptionally difficult for working-class women.
They are more likely to have lost their jobs – thrown back into taking on household duties, and made financially dependent on partners or male family members.
And they have borne the brunt of the coronavirus crisis, which has been accompanied by an increase in domestic abuse, gendered violence, and femicide.
For most people, home has been a safe haven during the pandemic. But for many women, it is the opposite.
‘Epidemic of violence’
Fourteen women in the UK were killed in just the first three weeks of lockdown. Even before the pandemic, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in the year leading up to March 2020.
This is alongside the 153,136 rape and other sexual offences recorded by police, in which the victim was female in 84% of cases.
Such abuses are likely to have increased since the pandemic, with a 65% increase in reports to the national domestic abuse hotline. No doubt, many more incidents go unreported.
This has lead to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) warning of an ‘epidemic of violence against women’ in an interim report.
This report calls upon all government institutions to “work together” to combat the issue. The HMICFRS calls for this question to become an “absolute priority” for government, policing, the criminal justice system, and public sector partnerships – all backed by sufficient funding.
Part of the problem
Unfortunately, more police powers and tokenistic extra funding from the Tories will do little to tackle this epidemic. The government has already allocated more money to tackle domestic abuse, but there is still an estimated £200 million shortfall.
And as the killing of Sarah Everard demonstrated, the police themselves are part of the problem. Those in law enforcement are far more likely to be abusers and far less likely to be convicted.
Meanwhile, 75% of domestic abuse cases reported to police never result in charges. Keen to close cases, police routinely pressure women to drop cases against their abusers.
The report’s recommendations, then, are at best a surface-level response to an issue that is deeply rooted in capitalist society.
This system cannot protect us, when it is the same one that is killing us. More radical solutions must be sought.
Capitalism to blame
Demands for increased funding for shelters, community-based services, greater mental health, and economic support for victims have all correctly been raised.
But why are such essential services not already more widely available? Clearly not for lack of need; nor for any lack of campaigning.
The blame lies with the crisis-ridden capitalist system. Whilst big business and tax-dodging billionaires have made massive profits, services for working-class women have consistently faced deep cuts. Indeed, services that vulnerable people rely upon have often been the first to be chopped under austerity.
Nor can we rely on women in power to tackle the issue. Home Secretary Priti Patel is happy to tweet in support of victims – but her own party has been responsible for the decimation of the already limited services available to women.
Tory austerity in local government has had a disproportionate impact on working-class women. 59% of local authorities implemented a real-time cut to their domestic abuse funding in 2019-20. This means there may be a 42.5% shortfall in refuge spaces in the coming year, despite a rise in overall incidents of domestic abuse.
Break the law, not the poor
Unfortunately, right-wing controlled Labour councils have not stood up to these cuts. Whilst leading voices in the party may oppose violence against women in words, in practice they accept the need for austerity, which is responsible for exacerbating this scourge.
Instead, Labour councils should take inspiration from class fighters of the past, such as the Poplar Labour councillors, who took as their motto: “It is better to break the law than break the poor”.
The same is true today. The wealth exists in society for all of these vital services and more.
But as long as we live in a society based on profit, not need, such safety nets will continually be pulled away; crisis and austerity will erode jobs, wages, healthcare, and housing; uncertainty and precarity will mount for the most vulnerable; and more and more women will be forced to rely on abusive partners.
Struggle for socialism
From allocated housing, to mental health support, to women's shelters: in the struggle to meet our needs, we constantly come up against the barrier of profit, competition, and capitalist crisis.
Only by smashing through this obstacle with mass, united class struggle can we begin to build a society – a socialist society – based on planning and production for need.
Only by overthrowing this whole oppressive system can women be properly supported, and the inequality of the sexes be done away with altogether.
Only when we can all live as independent human beings – free from domestic drudgery and wage slavery – can we talk of real freedom for women: free from men, and both free from capital.