Gender discrimination is to me one of the most baffling types of discrimination for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, it affects an incredibly large number of people (half of the world's population); and secondly, it appears to operate across boundaries of time, place and culture: almost everywhere, in almost all societies at almost all times, women have been, and continue to be, discriminated against.

Wales, sadly, is no exception. Not only are women in Wales poorer than men today, but this has not changed in decades.

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And as an advocate of Basic Income, I have often wondered why more women (maybe all women) are not campaigning for the immediate introduction of a Basic Income.

At the root of a lot of inequality lies an imbalance of power. Those who have it can lord it over those who don't. If you are trying to address inequality you need to rebalance power.

There are many ways of obtaining power, but those of us who believe in Basic Income like to focus on just one of those ways, the one we think is the gateway to the others: money.

Basic Income is money, but it is a particular type of money.

A Basic Income has five core characteristics:

  1. Cash: it’s money you can spend on whatever you want.
  2. Regular: so you know the next instalment of money is coming.
  3. Unconditional: You don’t have to work or make any promises to get this money, there are no strings attached.
  4. Universal: everyone gets the money.
  5. Individual: Each person gets their own money, paid to the individual not the household.

 

And it is the last point I want to focus on: a Basic Income is paid to individuals. And this is crucial because our society is so steeped in gender inequality that we often fail to see it when it is staring us in the face.

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In the United Kingdom, a lot of today's system of state assistance and redistribution is deeply anti-women.

Take, for example, National Insurance. If you are a man who works 40 years straight you will have a full history of contributions and a full state pension. If you are a woman who chooses to take time off to look after your children as they are growing up, you will have huge gaps in your history of contributions and be penalised in your old age, because you need to pay into National Insurance for a set number of years to be entitled to receive the state pension.

As far as the State is concerned, some types of work (like caring), don't count as work. And they tend to be the types of work that, overwhelmingly even today, are done by women.

When it comes to means-tested benefits, things look just as bad.

Universal Credit, which was supposed to modernise and streamline welfare, simply copied over all of its predecessors' misogynistic assumptions. Perhaps the most egregious one is the idea that help is assessed at the household level, where a (usually male) breadwinner and his "dependents" live. In such circumstances, women are constantly reduced to the humiliating position of financial dependents, with sometimes terrible consequences.

According to research by Women’s Aid, one in five women interviewed in the UK said they couldn’t leave an abusive relationship because they had no money of their own. I remember talking to a young man during the Senedd election campaign, who told me how his mum could've extracted herself from an abusive relationship much earlier if she'd had some financial security, like a Basic Income.

A Basic Income treats everyone as individuals in their own right. Because it is regular and unconditional, it gives everyone, regardless of gender, a secure floor of financial stability. If you are not financially dependent on someone else, they have less power over you.

Money, in this case, is quite literally power.

So even though I support Mark Drakeford's announcement of a Basic Income trial in Wales, I don't think it goes far enough, because it needs to include more women at different stages of their lives. I am convinced any such trial will show the transformational effects of a Basic Income on women's lives, as has been shown in other countries.

I'll finish with a battle cry to the women reading this: join me in campaigning for a Basic Income to improve the lives of all women in Wales and beyond!

Jane Dodds is a Member of the Senedd for the Mid and West Wales region.

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