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Economic Justice

What is missing is as important as what is there – analysing the Budget for equality impact

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