migrant women and social reproduction under austerity

Abstract

Since coming to power in 2010, the UK Coalition government has enacted a series of cuts to public spending, under the auspices of austerity. Underpinning these cuts is a neo-liberal model of citizenship, in which citizens are expected to be autonomous, independent and economically productive, and in which the responsibilities of citizenship outweigh the rights. This model of citizenship is characterised by a paradoxical approach to social reproduction. The Coalition government has taken a significant interest in social reproduction as a means of creating the next generation of ‘good’ neo-liberal citizens; yet, the current austerity measures involve the withdrawal of state support for social reproduction activities. Drawing on participant observation carried out with migrant women’s groups in Sheffield and Manchester, as well as interviews with group members, this article demonstrates how the government’s paradoxical approach to social reproduction, combined with gendered and racialised discourses of citizenship and ‘Britishness’, have led to policies that place ethnic minority migrant women in an untenable situation. The social reproduction activities of ethnic minority migrant women are the subject of intense government interest, because of the concern that they will be unable to produce ‘good’ neo-liberal citizens. In some cases, this has led to government policies clearly intended to dissuade ‘undesirable’ migrants from having children. In other cases, migrant women are expected to show their commitment to integration, both for themselves and their children, specifically by learning English, even as the government has drastically cut funding for English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) classes. While seemingly paradoxical, this is in keeping with a racialised neo-liberal model of citizenship under which the ‘responsible’ migrant mother should be able to parent and learn English without government assistance. Nonetheless, these policies are actually self-defeating, as they prevent migrant women from exhibiting the very characteristics of neo-liberal citizenship that they are ostensibly trying to encourage.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although, as several theorists have pointed out, with the advent of neo-liberal globalisation, other scales of citizenship, including the transnational and the local, have become increasingly important (Holston, 1999; Purcell, 2003; Benhabib, 2004).

  2. 2.

    I am defining migrant women as any woman living presently in the UK, who does not have UK citizenship, and was not born in the UK.

  3. 3.

    Manchester City Council ‘Budget Report to the Executive 13th February 2013’, http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200110/budgets_and_spending/880/the_councils_revenue_budget/4, last accessed 7 June 2014.

  4. 4.

    UK Government, ‘Benefit Cap’, https://www.gov.uk/benefit-cap, last accessed 5 June 2014.

  5. 5.

    Gov.uk, ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance: 5. Further Information’, https://www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance/further-information, last accessed 15 June 2014.

  6. 6.

    In asserting that households should not be able to receive benefit payments higher than the average household weekly wage, the government neglects to consider the possibility that the average household weekly wage may be too low to meet household needs.

  7. 7.

    Manchester City Council, ‘Report for Resolution’, 16 February 2011, http://www.manchester.gov.uk/egov_downloads/AdultsDirectorate.pdf, last accessed 16 June 2014.

  8. 8.

    Department of Work and Pensions, ‘Housing Benefit is changing from 1 April 2013 for people who rent from a social sector landlord’, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_ data/file/229364/factsheet-hbsssc1.pdf, last accessed 15 June 2014.

  9. 9.

    Two-year-olds are eligible for fifteen hours a week of free childcare if their parents receive benefits or working tax credits, or if they are looked after by the local council, have special needs, receive Disability Living Allowance or have left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order. See UK Government, ‘Free Early Education and Childcare’, https://www.gov.uk/free-early-education, last accessed 1 October 2014.

  10. 10.

    For the text of the speech, see Gov.uk ‘Speech on the Big Society’, delivered 23 May 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speech-on-the-big-society, last accessed 1 December 2014.

  11. 11.

    UK Government, ‘Asylum Support’, https://www.gov.uk/asylum-support/overview, last accessed 5 June 2013.

  12. 12.

    UK Government, ‘Section 4 Support’, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/ 257422/section-4-support-inst.pdf, last accessed 15 June 2014.

  13. 13.

    Home Office, ‘Public Funds’, valid from 21 February 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/ 284160/Public_funds_v12_0EXT.pdf, last accessed 15 June 2014.

  14. 14.

    NIDirect, ‘Benefits for Non-UK Nationals’, http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/benefits-for-non-uk-nationals, last accessed 10 June 2014.

  15. 15.

    Maternity Action, ‘Who is entitled to free NHS maternity care?’, http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/3-women-from-abroad/entitlement-to-free-nhs-maternity-care-for-women-from-abroad/, last accessed 17 June 2014.

  16. 16.

    Department of Health, ‘Press Release: Extended NHS Charging for Visitors and Migrants’, 30 December 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/extended-nhs-charging-for-visitors-and-migrants, last accessed 10 June 2014.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the women in Manchester and Sheffield who agreed to participate in this research project. The author would also like to thank Bridget Byrne and Jonathan Darling, as well as the Feminist Review editors and reviewers, for their valuable comments on this article.

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Lonergan, G. migrant women and social reproduction under austerity. Fem Rev 109, 124–145 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2014.43

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Keywords

  • austerity
  • migration
  • social reproduction
  • citizenship
  • neo-liberalism
  • gender