Union says government should undo the enormous damage it has done to women

Tim Lezard

unison logoThe government should use International Women’s Day as an opportunity to start undoing the damage its austerity measures have had on women in the UK, UNISON said today.

The social and economic position of women in the UK has been dramatically eroded since the coalition came into power, and UNISON said it was time for the tide to turn.

Through its own education services, UNISON has been working hard to help people develop the skills to make them stand out in the workforce, and this has had a significant impact on a number of its women members.

The free Return to Learn scheme is designed to help workers develop their skills and boost confidence in key areas including writing; investigating and research; analysing and problem solving; and working with numbers. This, and the union’s unique Women’s Lives course are changing the lives of workers – male and female – in their thousands.

Nearly 15,000 UNISON members have benefited from its learning programmes since April 2012, including nearly 5,000 learners at further education level, and nearly 1,400 CPD learners. Return to Learn and Women’s Lives have been helping people enhance their skills and learning for 25 years.

Dawn Wilson, a retired Homecare Assistant from Derby, took both the Return to Learn and Women’s Lives courses in her early 50’s, and said they gave her to confidence to get back into learning. She is currently undertaking both a creative writing, and a digital photo-editing course through the University of the Third Age.

She said: “My main motivation for getting back into education was to be able to write my life story for my grandchildren. So much has changed in my lifetime; they can’t grasp that when I was young we didn’t have a phone, let alone a mobile! But there is so much more to it; the UNISON courses gave me the confidence to keep learning and prevented me from being isolated. I’m still making new friends, which is important after the loss of my husband.

“Teaching was so much more formal when I was at school; you were basically frightened of your teachers, and you felt like you were in education, but not being taught. When I heard about the Return to Learn and Women’s Lives courses, I thought ‘go for it’. The tutors were brilliant and, unlike when I was at school, were really supportive, and patient, and understanding of any difficulties you might have. So were the other women on my course; four of us still meet once a month for a coffee, or to go to the theatre. They’ve been supportive personally, as well as in education.

“After the UNISON courses I went on to do an NVQ; using what I learned to help organise my coursework, and the best way carry out case studies.

“UNISON’s courses helped in my work, too. The biggest thing is confidence. When you have meetings with work, you feel like you can speak up, and that what you’re going to say is appropriate. The courses helped me to think out of the box, and to be confident enough to give a different view if everyone around the table is fixed on something that seems wrong to you.

“The women I met at UNISON were a lifesaver for me. They were not pushy – the courses are not recruiting shop stewards, they’re about improving your life, and building your confidence. I would definitely recommend them.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This International Women’s Day the government should be turning its attention to undoing the enormous damage they’ve done to women’s lives since they came into power.

“Women have borne the brunt of the government’s austerity measures: they’ve been hit hardest by recession, by government benefit cuts and, thanks to this government’s ideology-driven attacks to our public services, have seen record unemployment.

“It’s time for the tide to turn; let’s celebrate the enormous achievements made by women every day, but let’s do so knowing that there is so much more than can be done in the UK to improve the lives of women. This starts with the government, and it must act now.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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