An end to austerity? Not for women or people of colour

This Budget, like all Tory Budgets, does not deliver for women or people of colour because it makes no attempt to acknowledge, let alone address, the sexist and racist structure of our economy

Claudia Webbe
Wednesday 11 March 2020 17:53
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Black woman on Question Time gives impassioned speech to panel about domestic violence

For all the bluster that today’s Budget would see a radical break with austerity, the reality – for women and people of colour, at least – is more of the same.

For it is we who have been disproportionately affected by 10 years of austerity. Today the chancellor had an opportunity to reverse that injustice. He refused it.

Women have shouldered 86 per cent of Tory cuts, thanks to what the Women’s Budget Group describes as a “triple whammy” of increased reliance upon benefits, our traditional role as unpaid carers and our over-representation in the public sector.

Yet the 125-page Budget document contained just four references to women, three of which regarding a single policy: the tampon tax.

While I welcome the long-overdue removal of VAT on sanitary products, this government is doing virtually nothing to tackle the bigger scandal of female poverty. Women make up 69 per cent of low earners, no different than in 2011. The recent 10-year review of the Marmot review found that the life expectancy of women in the most deprived areas fell between 2010-12 and 2016-18. In the sixth wealthiest country on Earth, falling life expectancy should be a thing of the past – yet the Conservatives have somehow revived this Victorian trend.

My constituency of Leicester is famous for its garment industry. Yet many garment workers, overwhelmingly women, earn as little as £3 an hour in conditions most people would consider unthinkable in modern Britain. That is the legacy of Tory de-industrialisation, one today’s Budget will do nothing to change.

Nor is it only the poorest women who have been overlooked by this Budget. Fifty years after Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act, men are still paid 17.3 per cent more than women, a gender pay gap that is not projected to close for another 60 years. This Budget was an opportunity for the chancellor to follow Labour’s lead and set a 2030 target for closing the gender pay gap, but once again, the Tories failed to take meaningful action.

Then there is the question of domestic violence. Every fortnight, three women are killed by their current or former partner. Yet a decade of Tory austerity means that local authorities do not have the funding to support survivors of domestic abuse. The Budget failed to provide the extra £173 million needed to ensure that no survivor is turned away from the specialist support they need.

Dawn Butler calls out Boris Johnson racism during panel debate with MP Laura Trott

For people of colour, the issues of class and gender are compounded by those of race. As a black woman from a working-class background representing Leicester East, one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, I know only too well how inequalities intersect. The Runnymede Trust has found that the poorest black and Asian households have lost out the most under austerity, and are projected to have experienced a 20 per cent real-terms loss in living standards by this year. That’s equivalent to a loss of £8,400 to £11,700 per year. This Budget will not change that.

Of course, we should have known nothing was going to change. The writing was on the wall when Boris Johnson replaced Sajid Javid, a millionaire banker with a murky role in the 2008 financial crash, with Rishi Sunak, a millionaire banker with a murky role in the 2008 financial crash. This Budget, like all Tory Budgets, does not deliver for women or people of colour because it makes no attempt to acknowledge, let alone address, the sexist and racist structure of our economy.

Today we face three crises that austerity has exacerbated: coronavirus, climate change and crumbling social infrastructure. Women and people of colour are on the front lines of these crises. We deserved better than this Budget.

Claudia Webbe is the Labour MP for Leicester East

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