The government’s priorities were clearly revealed today in a series of fiscal announcements that put money in the wallets of the already wealthy (who are mainly men), while taking money from the purses of part-time workers (mainly women).
The so-called mini-Budget was far more substantial than the name suggested. In just half an hour the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced tax cuts totalling nearly £45bn a year by 2026/27. These included cuts to National Insurance contributions, a reversal of the planned increase to corporation tax, a cut to the basic rate of income tax, and the removal of the 45 per cent tax rate for people earning over £150,000 a year.
Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group has shown that these tax cuts predominantly benefit men, who earn more and are more likely to be business owners and shareholders. Around 80 per cent of those benefiting from the nearly £2.4bn spent on removal of the 45 per cent tax rate will be men. Some 77 per cent of workers who earn too little to pay income tax, and so gain nothing from the £5.3bn a year spent cutting the basic rate, are women.
At the same time, the Chancellor confirmed a “strengthening of the sanctions regime”, including a requirement on part-time workers to increase their working hours or face a benefit cut. Most of those affected by this policy will be women, or sick and disabled people who face real practical barriers to increasing their working hours. Many would like more paid work, but can’t because of their care responsibilities, health or disability. Rather than invest in care services, promote flexible working or tackle employer attitudes, the government has chosen to try to punish these people into work.
We are facing a tough winter, with fuel bills double what they were last year, even with the energy price cap, and food prices going up by nearly 13 per cent and house prices by 11 per cent. Our public services are in crisis: 4,000 childcare providers closed in the last year, over 2.6 million people have unmet care needs, and more patients than ever are waiting for treatment. All of this disproportionately impacts women, who are hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis, rely more on public services and are more likely to work in the public sector.
In this context, tax cuts are not only unfair because they benefit men more, they also reduce the money available to invest in public services. And this failure to invest has a knock-on impact on the wider economy. Services like health, care and education are described as social infrastructure because we all benefit from them, even when we are not using them ourselves.
Everyone gains from a healthy, well-educated and cared-for population. We all rely on goods and services produced by people who wouldn’t be able to work if they didn’t have access to childcare, or social care for their loved ones. We’d benefit far more if the £45bn the government has given away in tax cuts had been invested in social infrastructure.