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Women’s changing lives: results from a survey and listening forums in Leicester West

Women’s changing lives: results from a survey and listening forums in Leicester West
Liz Kendall MP

5075 surveys about ‘women’s changing lives’ (see attached) and invitations to attend a listening forum were sent out to all women on the electoral register in the areas of North Braunstone and New Parks.  Both of these are estates on the edge of Leicester, consisting predominantly of social housing, with high levels of deprivation and worklessness and historically low levels of voter turnout, particularly in North Braunstone.

117 surveys have been returned so far – 2.31% of those contacted. 103 respondents have never contacted their MP before.

2 forums were organised
• North Braunstone: 2nd September – 8 women attended
• New Parks: 16th September – 18 women attended

Key findings

• 92% respondents have had to do something differently in past year to balance finances
• 77% of women now having to spend less
• Many women mentioned not only having to spend less but cost of basics have increased (food/fuel) so can’t afford all they need

• Most survey respondents were not working – 29% retired, 15% ill/disabled, 9% unemployed
• Of those who are working 50% feel less secure in their job now than a year ago

• More pensioners responded to the survey than mothers with dependent children. Of those mothers who did respond, 66% are finding making suitable childcare arrangements harder than they used to
• In the additional comments section concerns were raised about cuts to child tax credits and freeze in Child benefits.

Childcare was a topic that concerned many of the women who attended the New Parks forum.  Many of the women there had young children.  There was a lot of concern about the Childcare Tax Credit cut from 80% to 70% of childcare costs.   All the mothers at the event feel that getting 10% less towards childcare is having a negative impact on finances and has made them question whether working is a viable option.  One woman has had to choose not to work because she cannot afford childcare costs but is not entitled to benefits because she chose not to work.  Another woman now has to work 2 jobs and her partner has one which means she has less time to spend with her family and rarely sees her partner. Although one mother said the local primary school has a breakfast club, several mothers said it is still very difficult to find jobs which fit around school hours.
• From the survey results there seems to be a lot of confusion about pensions and the changes to the pension age. Very few of those who responded to this question felt that they were prepared for the rise in the age at which they can claim their pension.  Many women have asked for more information.

Local Services
Women in New Parks and North Braunstone are already aware of cuts to local services:

• NHS 41%
• Parks/Leisure 23%
• Libraries 20%
• Education 16%
• Social Services 14%

Education was an important topic of discussion at the North Braunstone forum.  Several women felt that the ‘academic route’ seems to have been given more priority/emphasis over the past year by the current Government.  Some of the women who attended the forum were concerned about the young people on the estate who would want to take up more vocational jobs and whether these routes would become less accessible.  There was also a strong feeling that careers advice should start earlier in children’s lives.

Public transport
Local buses were mentioned many times in the additional comments section on the survey and in the North Braunstone forum.  Both North Braunstone and New Parks are outlying estates.  Many residents rely on buses to get to work, school, hospital and doctor surgeries and into the city centre.

Over the past year the number of buses serving these areas has been reduced.  Many evening, early morning and weekend buses have been taken off the timetable.   Many of the women who responded to the survey work in jobs which have shift patterns (carers in the private sector, jobs at the hospitals). These women rely on the early morning and late evening services to get to and from their jobs.    Very real concern was expressed about the additional costs of getting taxis into work and how this is having a negative impact on family finances.

Personal Safety/Crime
• 71% of those who responded stated they were concerned about crime and threats to personal safety.
• Many of the comments in the additional comments section mentioned concern about anti-social behaviour and also personal accounts of being the victim of crimes in the past year.

Additional comments
Many women who responded to the survey are carers for their husbands or other family members or sick or disabled themselves.  They are very anxious about the future – lots of confusion about benefits, fear of losing ESA, DLA etc, some people already been assessed and have lost benefits causing hardship.

Many of the mothers at the New Parks forum strongly expressed the view that whilst they are working hard to make ends meet and bring up their families, they get little if any help from the state, whereas other families who don’t go out and work get lots of benefits. One woman said “We’re now benefit Britain.” Several women felt angry that the Government seems to assume that everyone living in a council house is ‘on the dole’, whereas in reality they are not.

When asked what would help them most – more money for tax credits or more hours of free nursery care – most mothers said more hours of free care would be better for them.