‘Budget for growth’ leaves women out in the cold

The Impact on Women of the Budget 2011, a UK Women’s Budget Group report produced in partnership with the Fawcett Society warns that the 2011 Budget will do little to help those faring worst in the face of drastic public spending cuts and rising unemployment, and in fact risks widening gender inequality.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The current economic strategy looks set to undermine gender equality in the labour market: if current trends continue, more women than men in the UK will be unemployed, for the first time since records began.
  • The bonfire of regulations will remove the protections that women and men with caring responsibilities need in order to be able to work.
  • The increase in the Personal Tax Allowance threshold will not touch the most vulnerable, and among those who will benefit, men will gain £140 million more than women.
  • Without action to tackle entrenched gender inequality within the apprenticeship sector, where women earn on average 21 per cent less than men, the Government’s flagship expansion in apprenticeships and training opportunities will not improve the employment opportunities young women face and do nothing for older women.
  • The businesses set to benefit most from new tax breaks and other incentives are typically owned and invested in by men while schemes to support women in business are scrapped.

Acting Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, Anna Bird, said:

Women are acting as shock absorbers for the cuts, bearing the brunt of job losses, reduced benefits and the rollback of public services like the NHS. This latest budget was an opportunity to try and ease that burden, but the Chancellor’s plans do nothing to target new forms of enterprise and employment opportunities for those who need them most.

It’s time for the government to admit there is a problem with “business as usual” and recognise that to grow, we need everyone to play their rightful part. Women play a valuable role in the economy, but we urgently need to close the gender pay gap – in the private sector this stands at 21 per cent – broaden women’s employment options, and provide more support to enable more women to start up businesses.

Commenting on news that if current trends continue we will see more women unemployed than men, Anna said:

Hot on the heels of the biggest cuts in peacetime history, this budget will further hamper women’s employment prospects. Ripping up red tape might make a great sound bite, but it can all too easily mean scaling back on equality – the kinds of regulations under threat are often those that have enabled the huge increase in women entering and staying in the workforce over the past thirty years.

If current trends continue, we will see more women unemployed than men. Losing your job is devastating for you and your family, whether you are a woman or man. But the scale of job losses across the female workforce undermines women’s overall financial autonomy and widens the gap in equality between women and men. For the first time, after decades of steady progress, we will be turning the clock back on women’s access to the jobs market.

Assessing the overall economic strategy, Professor Diane Elson, Chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group said:

We call on the government to learn from the worsening indicators of employment and output, and to rethink its economic strategy, as it is rethinking its health service strategy. Appropriate public expenditure can support the creation of decent jobs and greater progression toward economic prosperity and equality.

Anna Bird:

We think it’s time to recognise that business as usual is failing women across the UK.

The report, The Impact on Women of the Budget 2011, is available to download from the UK Women’s Budget Group website (direct link to PDF)