Earlier this year the Government announced that it was launching a Race Disparity Audit to ‘shine a light’ on ‘uncomfortable truths’ about racial inequality in the UK. On the day that this audit is published, a new report highlights one such ‘uncomfortable truth’ - the impact that austerity policies since 2010 have had on black and minority ethnic (BME) women.

The report, Intersecting Inequalities, published by the Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust with RECLAIM and Coventry Women’s Voices, shows how much different groups have lost as a result of cuts to benefits, public services and tax since 2010. Its findings are shocking. As a result of tax and benefit changes since 2010:

  • Asian women in the poorest third of households lose on average 19% of their income (over £2200)
  • Black women in the poorest households will lose on average 14% of their income (over £2000 a year).

From the poorest to the richest women lose more than men and BME women lose more than white women.

When you add in the impact of cuts to public services the report shows that:

The poorest families will see an average drop in living standards of around 17%.

Black and Asian households will see the biggest average drop in living standards, losing 19% and 20% respectively.

Lone mothers will lose 18% of their living standards.

But the numbers only tell you so much. As a member of RECLAIM, a youth leadership and social change organisation, based in Manchester, I was asked to act as a ‘peer interviewer’ alongside researchers at the University of Manchester, to find out what impact these cuts were having on the lives of young women.

Hearing about the interviewees’ financial circumstances or personal anxieties about the future was comforting at times as it felt reassuring to know I am not suffering the effects of austerity alone, though this is how it may often tend to feel. But it is also very frustrating to know that so many people with similar backgrounds to me have been and continue to be negatively impacted by austerity and there seems to be no belief that things are going to improve. In fact, from the interviews I found that young women are learning how to manage these difficult circumstances and preparing in what little ways they can for the tougher times ahead.

Having never interviewed someone before, I initially had nervous and wary feelings about coming across as intrusive since the questions asked were considerably personal, such as - ‘Do you have any anxieties about the future? - What worries you the most? How would you describe your relationship with the economy?’ These questions revealed thoughts that the interviewee may not have spoken out loud before, let alone with a stranger. However, I found that being interviewed myself before we began by a fellow researcher enabled me to experience this first hand; when I was asking the questions to other participants I found that their answers felt like echoes of my own. When this occurred, I made the interviewee aware of our parallel experiences so that they would feel comfortable and unashamed of their response.

The interviews certainly challenged the naive belief that being a young school child offers a security untroubled by financial worries. I found that young women of 14 are inheriting similar a financial stress and anxieties that are experienced by their parents and older siblings, there was clearly no protection afforded to them by their youth.

When discussing money and savings with the 14 year old participants, they all voiced how pleased they will be upon receiving their NI number in order to look for work, earn money and contribute to their family household. Hearing this concerned me the most, as from personal experience I am aware that working alongside studying often means that academic grades and achievements are compromised. It became clear that there is a pattern of young adults from under privileged backgrounds striving to do well and yet, being burdened with the stress of having financial security, they are struggling to balance their studies, work, mental wellbeing and social life.

Within my community I can see the realities of austerity cuts and felt a responsibility to take part in this project and voice these collectively shared experiences. I have felt empowered to contribute raw evidence of the lasting impacts that austerity is having on the personal lives of young BME women. Despite the narrative in the interview sometimes feeling bleak and distressing to hear, I did find that speaking on and sharing our realities have offered a cathartic release and that by the end of the interview there was a sense of solidarity amongst us young women that was being propelled through this work.