Everyone’s getting poorer. Isn’t that what we’re all told? There have been years of economic crises, we’re all tightening our belts, trimming that fat, living within our means. But I’ve got good news for you! That is, if you happen to be a wealthy white man. Changes to tax and benefits since 2015 mean that men in the richest ten per cent of households are in fact, better off. Excellent news; looser belts all round.
But 2015 was a less positive year for, well, pretty much everyone else. Analysis by the House of Commons library found that 81 per cent of cuts between 2010 to 2015 had fallen on women. This was bad enough, but by 2017 they had revised the figure to 86 per cent. The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) explains that austerity policies planned for the 2015-20 Parliament are, in fact, “even more regressive” than those implemented from 2010-15, with living standards for those in the poorest 10 per cent of households cut by five times more than for those in the top 10 per cent of households.
According to the WBG, those hardest hit by 2020 will include low income black and minority ethnic women (who will have lost about twice as much money as white men); female pensioners; and single parents — about 90 per cent of whom are women.
Cuts have also hit women’s jobs. By 2012, two years into austerity. women’s unemployment had risen by 20 per cent to 1.13 million, the highest figure for 25 years. Meanwhile, male unemployment stood at almost exactly where it had since the end of the recession in 2009.
How has this been allowed to happen? Very simply, because the government didn’t have the numbers. None of this analysis was produced by the government. It was all produced by charities and independent bodies.
But they should be producing it. In the 2010 Equality Act there is a provision called the Public Sector Equality Duty. It sounds boring, but it’s incredibly important. Under this duty, a public authority – something like, say the government – must have “due regard” in its decision-making process, to the need to: eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity. As the Women’s Budget Group points out it’s extremely hard to see how the government can fulfil this duty without actually collecting and analysing data on how their budgets will affect women.
But successive governments have refused to do this, and so, since the 80s, the Women’s Budget Group has been doing this work for them, for free. But the WBG can only do the analysis once the government has published its budget — by which time, of course, it’s too late. They won’t budge, excuse the pun, for something as minor as 86 per cent of cuts falling on women.
Going through Parliament on 11 December is an amendment to the most recent budget that will change all this. It is asking the government to commit to analysing its plans for how they will impact on women before it decides on the final budget. This is just some of that plain common sense, of which our politicians profess to be so enamoured. And, arguably, it’s their legal duty.
So let’s get them to put their money where their mouth is. Write to your MP today, (they have to sign up to the amendment today, 6 December) asking them if they are supporting the reasoned amendment to the Finance Bill second reading — and if they aren’t, what exactly it is they have against evidence-based decision-making.
Because that’s all this is: a plea for evidence-based decision-making. And who could argue against that?