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Mary-Ann Stephenson blogs about what equality changes the Chancellor could have included  in his recent budget

When analysing the Budget each year it is as important to think about what is missing as well as what is included.  And this year’s Budget was no exception. Speaking on International Women’s Day, the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, announced funding for a series of ‘women’s projects’. He promised additional resources for domestic violence and abuse (DVA) services, funding for projects to help women returning to work after a career break and money to celebrate the 100th anniversary of some women winning the vote next year.

The actual money for these three projects was tiny in terms of the national Budget. There was £20 million for domestic violence services over three years, which although welcome, in no way replaces the money lost to the sector through successive cuts to local government, police and health budgets. The barriers faced by women returning to work are complex and structural; it is difficult to see how much difference £5 million for ‘returnships’ will solve them. And, while it is important to remember the struggle of those who fought for women’s right to vote, a better tribute might be action within political parties to increase women’s political representation rather than spending £5 million on celebrations .

Hammond was silent on the far more significant changes for women from April this year as a result of policies in previous budgets. These include limiting benefits and tax credits to the first two children, cutting the first child premium of £545 a year, and cutting some disability benefits by £29.05 a week. These will come on top of earlier changes including lowering the overall benefit cap and freezing benefits and tax credits at their 2015/16 level for four years.

Research by the Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust, funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust, has shown that all the cuts and changes to tax and benefits since 2010 will cost Asian women in the poorest third of households over £2,200 a year by 2020. Black women in the same income group will lose just over £2000, while white women lose £1,459. Women will lose more than men, and the poorest and BAME women will lose most of all. When cuts to services are included the impact gets worse. Lone parents (92% of whom are women) stand to lose 18% of their overall living standard by 2020 as a result of cuts to benefits and services since 2010.

The Chancellor said nothing about these impacts in his budget speech. The Treasury did publish a cumulative impact assessment of changes since 2015 by income, but this does not include any breakdowns by gender or ethnic background.  It is hard to see how the Chancellor can meet his obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty to have ‘due regard’ to the impact of Treasury policies on equality without carrying out this sort of assessment. The Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede have shown that these assessments are possible. The question now is, will the Treasury adopt a similar approach?

Mary-Ann Stephenson is Co-Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group

 

 

 

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent, not-for-profit think tank that has scrutinised the gender impact of social and economic policy decisions of successive governments for more than two decades.  In response to the 2017 Budget, on Social Care Women’s Budget Group welcomed the announcement of an additional £2bn for social care over three years but said it is not enough, with the funding gap estimated to reach £2.8bn and £3.5bn annually by the end of the Parliament.

“The social care crisis hits women hardest. Not only are the majority of paid and unpaid carers women, but the majority of those with care needs are women too. While Hammond focused on older people blocking beds in the NHS, we know that there are around 1.86 million people over the age of 50 with unmet care needs, the majority of whom are women. 

“Tackling this requires more funding than was announced today and a new approach. We look forward to Government’s Green Paper later in the year for further details on its proposed strategic approach for addressing this crisis.”

According to WBG the announcement of “the additional £20 million for domestic violence services for the next two years, while welcome, is insufficient compared to the scale of the problem. Sexual violence services are excluded from this additional funding, even though we know that these services are severely stretched. It costs £70m annually to run Rape Crisis England and Wales and they currently have a £10m budget shortfall, yet will not see any of this additional money.

“The Chancellor also announced £5m for women returning to work and £5m for celebrations to mark the centenary in 2018 of women gaining the vote. This will make no difference to the daily lives of ordinary women that have lost the most, and gained the least, from changes to taxes and benefits. We know that women in the poorest 20% of households by 2020/21 will be losing £1,600 a year on average as a result of changes to taxes and benefits since 2010.

On the National Insurance rise for self-employment WBG said: “The Chancellor’s announcement on the treatment of employees and the self-employed is welcome. In particular we welcome the move to equalise parental rights for the self-employed.  However, by focusing on the contributions paid by the self-employed, these measures do little to disincentivise employers from pushing individuals into bogus self-employment. We urge the Chancellor and government to look at this as a matter of urgency as it particularly affects women, who are also then denied access to the protections of employees.

And on the failure to carry out a robust Equality Impact analysis: “The Chancellor and Treasury have again failed to undertake a robust equality impact assessment of the Budget, despite their obligations under the Equality Act and calls for the Women and Equalities Select Committee to improve its reporting of equality impact. Without such an assessment, the government cannot fully understand the impact of its decisions on different groups, including impact, or how to minimise unintended negative impacts.

The Women’s Budget Group has published an independent distributional impact assessment by income, gender, and ethnicity in collaboration with Runnymede as well as a report on the gender impact assessment of the Spring Budget 2017.