Women’s rights ‘under unprecedented attack’

By Ian Dunt

Equality campaigners have launched a devastating attack on the coalition's treatment of women, saying the government is "turning back time".

The comments, which come on the publication of a new report demanding key policy concessions, are likely to hurt the government, which has reacted nervously to its growing unpopularity with women voters.

"So far David Cameron's response to women's concerns has been to make sure women are sitting behind him at prime minister's questions and to increase the likelihood of a Queen rather than a King in several decades time," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

"Yet he is doing nothing to help women who are under pressure right now and fear the clock is being turned back on women's equality."

Mr Cameron's attitude to women attracted attention after coalition moves to hand rape suspects anonymity and several misjudged comments during PMQs, including once when he told a female Labour frontbencher to 'calm down, dear'.

But equality campaigners are more concerned with the way the deficit reduction is disproportionately hitting women.

"Women have not faced a greater threat to their financial security and rights in living memory," Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society.

"Fewer women working; a widening gap in pay between women and men; entrenchment of outdated gender roles at work and at home and women being forced into a position where they must increasingly rely on a main breadwinner or the state for financial subsidy – this is the picture that emerges when the many policies of economic austerity are stitched together."

The report, 'A life raft for women’s equality', demands restoration of support for childcare costs for low-income families to pre-April 2011 levels, ring-fencing of funding for Sure Start children’s centres and reform of current legal aid plans, which campaigners fear could leave women vulnerable to domestic violence.