The government is criticised for not criminalising prostitutes’ clients enough (New law on forced prostitution weakened, say women’s groups, 20 May). But what about their increasing criminalisation of women? Not accidentally, the crime bill and the welfare reform bill are going through parliament together. If passed, mothers, especially single mothers, will lose income support and must “progress towards work” or take a job; so will over-60s and people with disabilities and their carers, mostly women. If you can’t find a job, you must “work for your benefits” ie for £1.73 an hour – the biggest attack yet on the minimum wage – or lose them.
Street workers will be rounded up and “rehabilitated”. Those working indoors – 10 times safer than the street – will be raided and their earnings seized by police and prosecutors who collect their own expense claim: they keep 50% of all proceeds – a corruption of law and order which now determines priorities.
At least 70% of sex workers are mothers escaping poverty, homelessness, debt, low wages and domestic violence. Four million children live in poverty. What right has the House of ill repute to judge what mothers do to feed them? Feminists Josephine Butler, Eleanor Rathbone and Virginia Woolf would be horrified that a parliament with more women MPs and ministers than ever has launched this attack on mothers and others with the least, during a deep recession.
Butler campaigned against the criminalisation of working-class women. Unlike anti-prostitution feminists today, she never dismissed the effects of laws on mothers supporting families through prostitution. Rathbone fought for unwaged mothers, on whose work the whole society rests, to have independent money from the state. She influenced the Beveridge report which proposed family allowances. Virginia Woolf feared that women entering the professions could end up dancing “round and round the mulberry tree, the poison tree of intellectual harlotry”. It is a man, John McDonnell MP, who has taken the lead in defending women against this injustice. Where have (almost) all the feminists gone? Briefings on both bills and an open letter to sign opposing them are at globalwomenstrike.net
Selma James Global Women’s Strike
Cari Mitchell English Collective of Prostitutes
Kim Sparrow Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
Friday 22 May 2009
The tragedy is (Jenni Russell, 21 May) that ministers for decades have swallowed hook, line and bath plug the message of their advisers that an unemployment income below subsistence level at £64.30 a week is needed to force the idle into work. European countries pay 53% to 69% of average earnings to a jobless adult, quite low enough to encourage willing human beings to seek employment, while Britain pays 40%. The welfare reform bill will reduce that £64.30 paid to lone mothers if they do not seek work or engage in work-related activity.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Monday 1 June 2009