Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms are disproportionately hurting women, report finds

Scottish Parliament Committee says those affected by domestic violence most at risk

Jon Stone
Monday 06 July 2015 15:30
The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith
The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith

The Government’s welfare reform programme is having a disproportionately damaging impact on women, a group of parliamentarians have said.

A report by the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee found that people who had been subject to domestic abuse had been particularly put at risk by the changes introduced by Iain Duncan Smith.

“The Committee believes that the cumulative impact of the reforms has had a damaging and disproportionate impact on women,” the report reads.

“The evidence in particular has highlighted impacts for certain groups such as disabled women, lone parents, carers, refugee women and those experiencing domestic abuse.”

MSPs outlined a number of ways in which the DWP’s policies were making life difficult for women.

They say problems with the new Universal Credit system include the likely payment of housing benefit to a single earner, who is more of often than not a man.

“This would lead to an increased need for women to bargain and negotiate within the household, decreasing women‘s financial autonomy and independence,” the report warns.

The committee also says the Government’s benefit cap should be suspended for women feeling domestic violence to give them the best hope of escape.

The MSPs agreed with the UK Parliament work and pensions select committee’s call for a full-scale review of the sanctions process.

Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, told the Independent that the report was valuable evidence of the impact of policy on women’s lives.

“We warmly welcome this report and the recommendations within it which concur with our own requests that the UK government assess its policy impact of the further entrenchment of women's inequality and take practical actions to reverse these,” she said.

“Austerity decisions are choices and we expect those choices to address inequality not compound it.”

The Women's Resource Centre is leading the Fair Deal for Women Campaign, which campaigns for government policies that promote gender equality.

"Punishing women for being carers, for being disabled, for being refugees, or being migrants is senseless - and also plunges more children into poverty," said Florence Burton of Fair Deal for Women.

"We hope this report can help to change the current debate and give decision makers a reality check on the situation".

The Fawcett Society, which contributed to the report, also welcomed the MSPs' findings.

“We gave evidence to the committee and it is good to known that we have been listened to," said Belinda Phipps, the organisation's chair.

"We welcome the recommendations and the recognition that women are unfairly treated under the welfare system as it is now. We would like to thank the committee for its work and we hope that these recommendations will be looked at in England and Wales.”

George Osborne is set to outline more of the Government's planned £12bn welfare cuts in his upcoming Budget this week.

The new wave of cuts will come after an announcement by Mr Duncan Smith that the Government’s legally binding child poverty target will be scrapped and replaced with non-binding measures of educational attainment and worklessness.

Yesterday a group of 70 prominent Catholics called on the work and pensions secretary to reverse his welfare policies, arguing that they were having unintended negative effects across the population.

The Government says its welfare reforms are making the social security system more fair and that it continues to provide a safety net.

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