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Jenni Tomlin

By Jenni Tomlin and Sam Tomlin

The recent debate on changes to social security has been and still is one of the fiercest in this generation of British politics. In many ways it has played out as a classic left v right ideological scrap, but has also prompted nuanced and wide ranging debate with the complexities of the deficit, infrastructure, unemployment and even Europe. It is not our primary intention in this article to rehash these debates, but to provide first-hand experience of events which have implications for two elements of one significant area of the debate: housing benefit.

£712-a-month worth of living space

£712-a-month worth of living space

The first concerns a good friend of ours who lived a few doors down from us until he moved out in the past week. He has been on incapacity benefit for a number of years and had lived in his (generously termed) ‘flat’ for about four of those. This ‘flat’ (see picture left) is in many ways a product of the housing boom and Thatcher’s right to buy scheme which allowed individuals to buy their own homes. The Victorian estate we live on used to be entirely council owned until right to buy; now, owner occupiers such as us are in the minority with most owners climbing the social ladder and moving to the suburbs, then selling on to rather more unscrupulous and opportunistic landlords.

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by Jenni Tomlin

I was walking down the road yesterday from the underground station to my house, it had been a fairly long day at work and I was walking with purpose, looking forward to sitting on the sofa at the end of another crowded commute. Out of nowhere a man in his car slowed down, pulled up alongside me and

Harmless fun or a window into how we value women?

shouted out of his open window “looking good gorgeous, really sexy”. He took a brief but purposeful stare at me before accelerating off down the road. The brevity of the situation meant that I had only seconds to assess my response, should I:

(a) Give back a cold and angry stare,

(b) Return his comments with some angry words about my disapproval of his choice to reduce my existence to a walk on part in his sexual fantasy,

(c) Duck my head, look down, avoid eye contact, walk on and do nothing.

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By Jenni Tomlin

Have you ever read or heard of Jesus’ comic metaphor for hypocrisy? It turns up in the book of Matthew in the Bible where Jesus asks his followers, ‘How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye’. It is supposed to be a comically over exaggerated metaphor to highlight the folly of hypocrisy.

When David Cameron appointed Laura Trott as his female policy adviser last week, the first post of its kind, I couldn’t help but think of that speck and plank. It seems to me as though David Cameron and perhaps the coalition government in general, are trying to take the tiny speck out of their left eye, whilst wilfully ignoring the massive whacking great plank sticking out of their collective right eye.

Is Cameron the first PM to take women's equality seriously?

Laura Trott will be responsible for counselling the Prime Minister on how policies will affect women. This many say, is a positive step forward for women’s equality; a central role, a person with influence to draw to the Prime Minister’s notice inequality in legislation. For some this is a sign that the government is finally taking seriously their commitment to equality impact assessment in legislation.

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By Jenni Tomlin

Upon reading today that our glorious national treasure, Stephen Fry, is playing Malvolio in an all-male production of Twelfth Night at the Globe this summer, I faced an internal struggle.

I love Shakespeare, not only for his masterful work, but also for the rich heritage that it provides for me as a native speaker of the English language. I am aware that the purpose of staging an all-male production of Twelfth night is to underline not only the heritage of Shakespeare and the Globe theatre, but also draw out some of the original Shakespearian comedy in the play. Shakespeare’s plays would originally have been performed in an all-male cast. In a performance of men playing women playing men- you are certain to lose some of the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) comedy intended in the original script when you introduce female actors. The all-male resurgence is in celebration of both the factual history and the literary comedy.

Celebrating our history or upholding patriarchy?

There is a problem however. There were no women in Shakespeare’s original plays because it was illegal for women to perform on the stage in his time. It was believed that women were too weak to take on such a task, that if they acted a part they would be more susceptible to becoming the part, that it was indecent. It was not believed that men were susceptible to the same problems or indecencies. In short, our heritage of all-male theatre serves to highlight our deep history of sexism and inequality. An inequality that raged through the centuries denying women the right to vote, own property, be educated, inherit from their parents, work, defend themselves from domestic violence and hold the same stature as men in society.

by Jenni Tomlin

It is well documented that the government cuts have hit women disproportionately hard; so well documented that the back channels of government spin and policy have been working diligently to throw out more ‘women friendly policies’ such as a longer school terms to suit working mothers. This is perhaps in the hope that women may not realise that they were almost entirely forgotten about during the first round of testosterone-charged cuts to the public sector. One effect of the cuts was to deeply undermine the importance of promoting the potential of a working life for parents.

Whether the cuts were a necessary evil, or an opportunistic ploy to push through an ideological policy is a debate for another time and blog. What has clearly emerged however is the fact that their effects have hit women harder than men. Research by the Union GMB showed that of the 129,051 council job cuts in 2011 66.4% were jobs previously held by women. If you look at the South east of England the proportion dramatically increases to over 75.8% jobs lost by women.

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