A budget that burdens women: How the UK treasury will target women

Nathanael Williams

With women celebrating International Women’s Day, CommonSpace looks at what women can look for in a budget in terms of equality and wealth

THE 2017 SPRING BUDGET from the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond was delivered on the same day as International Women’s Day with many anticipating the key ways it would affect women in the economy and society.

Today (Wednesday 7 March) women around the UK, Europe and the world are making stands on multiple fronts against discrimination, disadvantage and economic aggression.

Women in Scotland and the UK have also made a point to trying to “make work visible” to emphasis all the underrated and undervalued labour that society heavily depends on.  

Meanwhile women in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) are organising massive protests against the government’s refusal to hold a referendum over the reproductive rights of women to have an abortion. Symbolised by their slogan #repealthe8th women across Ireland took to the streets and social media to voice their anger at the policy which means women in Ireland have to travel to the UK to undergo abortions.

Speaking to CommonSpace Dr Eva Neitzert, co-director of the Women’s Budget Group said: “While the £2bn investment in social care is a welcome start, there was nothing in this budget to address the unfair impact of tax and benefit changes since 2010 that has seen women on the lowest incomes suffer the biggest cuts. We know that, looking at changes up to the Autumn Statement in 2016, white men in the richest third of household will be £79 better off by 2020/21 whereas a low income Asian woman will be £2057 worse off a year.”

In the context of all this popular action by women, we break down what the UK budget for 2017 will mean for women.

  1.  Women will still bear the brunt of austerity

The 2017 budget saw the continuation of women bearing the majority of the pain from government austerity policies.

As far back as 2010, cuts to spending on services and social security have disproportionately affected women because they work in and rely more on public services, benefits and tax credits than men do. 86 per cent of cuts fall on women according to Landman Economics and Engender, Scotland’s feminist thinktank.

This has been slightly mitigated by devolvement of social security and the Scottish Government’s decision to handle payments in a different way to the UK Government. However, 85 per cent of welfare decision are still made in Westminster.

In addition to more cuts, the pension crisis among women over 50 has still not been addressed. These WASPI women have been demanding pension justice from the government after late notification left them with the prospects of having to work longer for lower wages.

  1. Domestic Abuse and Violence Fund

The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has already committed to bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act. On top of this the budget confirms there will be £20m made available to tackle domestic violence and abuse.

However, as the SNP MP for Glasgow North, Alison Thewliss, stated the infamous ‘rape clause’ is still in place meaning that women will still have to prove that their third oo fourth child is a product of rape if they wish to claim extra child benefits beyond the second child.

The UK Government has also failed to address the child matainance tax, campaigned against by Angela Crawley MP for Hamilton East and Lanark, which leaves women paying a 4 per cent charge to access their child support.

As Dr Neitzert added: “Today the Chancellor announced £20million for domestic violence services and £5m for women returning to work. But this is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the cuts women have faced to benefits and public services since 2010.”

  1. £5m fund for women returning to work

In addition, the UK Government will include a new £5m fund to extend return to work schemes to all levels of management and into industries where women are underrepresented. This means the UK Government’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse has topped £100m during this parliament.

Opposition MPs were quick to point out that the Chancellor did not repeal the infamous ‘tampon tax’ which means that tampons are treated as a luxury item, taxed and the money spent by the UK Government on women’s services. Opponents state that this is forcing women to pay extra for a necessity to fund vuneralbe women’s services.  

Commenting on the annoucement Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts emphasised the need for companies to have more flexible work conditions and stop the maternity tax and discrimination which in effect means women are punished for having children during their career, losing money and employment opportunities.

She said: “Without a doubt there is a ‘motherhood penalty’ which results in mothers’ careers taking a nosedive post-children. Enabling women who want to work or who want to work more outside of the home to do so brings real financial benefits to families and also to the economy. Whether £5m will be enough to tackle the discrimination returning mother’s face is moot. What’s crucial is that workplaces embrace flexible working which is what many parents tell us they most need.”

  1. Pay gap not addressed

The Chancellor reported that there are more women in work than ever before. 1.3 million more women are in employment since 2010 but this fails to address the gender gap with persists in Scotland an the UK as a whole.

In 2015 the gender pay gap in Scotland was 14.8 per cent when comparing men’s combined hourly earnings with women’s combined hourly earnings and 33.5 per cent when women’s part-time hourly earnings were considered.

  1. Segregation in the workplace

Regarding occupational segregation, women working in Scotland are more likely to be concentrated in certain industries which pay less, for example 48 per cent of working women work in public administration, education and health industries.

On average women in Scotland earn £175.30 per week less than men and make up 48 per cent of the labour market.

Additionally, 42 per cent of women employed in Scotland work part-time compared to 13 per cent of men employed in Scotland with women accounting for 75 per cent of all part-time workers in Scotland.

Around 80 per cent of administrative and secretarial workers and those in personal service jobs are women and they are more likely to work in the public sector, with 67 per cent working for local government and 81 per cent in the NHS, yet only a third of chief executive officers are women.

  1. What do women want?

The research conducted by the Open University shows that if governments invest in high quality, free universal childcare, the resulting better childcare, higher tax revenue and a fully funded public services would reduced gender inequalities.

Investing in public services and in a decent social protection system is the way to achieve a country that works for everyone. Equal opportunities, especially for women and disadvantaged groups, require a level playing field that the market and families cannot provide for themselves. A sustainable economy demands no less.

Pictures courtesy of Engender, Andrea Pearson and Roger Blackwell

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.