As has been pointed out elsewhere, women will be paying for the brunt of the changes announced in the recent emergency Budget. The House of Commons library's gender analysis, commissioned by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, showed that by 2014-15, of the £8bn net savings made as a result of changes in taxes, benefits and in the indexation of pensions, women will be contributing 72 per cent and men just 28 per cent. In other words, women, who have substantially lower incomes than men, will be providing more of the money that will be collected to rescue the public finances from the recession's effects. This can only make gender inequalities in income worse.
The Women's Budget Group (WBG), a think-tank that campaigns for gender-auditing of government tax and expenditure plans, says the real picture is even worse than that outlined above. Women make up about two-thirds of all public-sector workers, so it is their jobs that will be harder hit by the public spending cuts to be announced in the autumn. Women are also greater users of public services than men. And if public services are taken away, it is usually women who fill the gap. Similarly, with cuts in childcare support, it is likely to be women who cut into their working hours to cope.
There is a Gender Equality Duty (GED) that requires all parts of the public sector, including the Government, to be proactive in eliminating gender discrimination. This Budget, and the public sector cuts that will follow, work in the opposite direction.
The WBG points out the only way for the Government to comply with the GED is for a published gender-impact assessment to be an automatic part of every Budget; and for governments to ensure gender inequalities are reduced, not worsened, by their proposals. The current Government may not have taken a positive decision to impose most of its austerity measures on women; it may just have never collected the data to realise it was doing so. If gender inequalities are to be reduced, as the GED requires, the Government should not be able to plead ignorance in its defence.
The writer is Professor of Economics at The Open University and a member of the Women's Budget Group. The full WBG emergency budget response is available on the Fawcett Society website, fawcettsociety.org.uk