migrant women and social reproduction under austerity


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