Calm Down Dear! It’s only the Budget Speech
George Osbourne’s budget speech contained little that can be applauded by the women of Scotland. There is no room for any complacency nor indeed ‘calm’ with regard to women’s deteriorating position within Scotland’s labour market. Women’s unemployment has doubled – currently at 8.3% – since in the start of the recession in 2009. Claims of an apparent ‘mancession’ can now be fully refuted as we appear to be entering a period of significant and sustained job losses for women – a ‘she-cession’ perhaps?
The UK Coalition Government’s Budget presents a real challenge to gender equality in Scotland.
Tax changes announced in the budget today will do little to improve the position of women in Scotland’s economy. Women make up a disproportionate number of the lowest earners who will gain from increases in the personal tax allowance. However, it is difficult to see how such tax measures will benefit those women who are losing their jobs at a rate of 240 per day, as indicated by latest figures. Nor is it clear how increases in tax allowances will improve the lives of those women dependent upon the public services that have been lost as a result of swathing public sector cuts and reductions in benefit entitlements contained within the recent welfare reform bill.
The reduction in the 50% top rate of tax to 45% from April 2013 will put more money in the pockets of top earners who are more likely to be male. The gender pay gap, currently 11% in Scotland, appears to be worse at the highest end of the income distribution. Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings data indicate that even in the top 10% of earners, average female weekly earnings are only 67% of average men’s weekly earnings.
The reforms to Child Benefit, first outlined in the June Emergency budget were one of the most serious attacks on women’s economic independence contained in the UK Government’s initial spending plans. Child Benefit is one of the only universal benefits to remain intact – although eroded in value – since the Thatcher Governments attack on welfare associated with Fowler Reforms of the late 1980’s. It is worth remembering that one of the reasons it survived was by appealing to the fact that it is a benefit aimed at the care and maintenance of the next generation. In many households, dual or single earning, Child Benefit is often the only source of independent income available to the primary care giver, most often the mother. This budget was a missed opportunity to rethink the planned changes to Child Benefit thus reversing a significant attack on the economic independence of many mothers.
As predicted in October 2010 by the Women in Scotland’s Economy (WiSE) Research Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University, women are now the hardest hit as a result of this recession and it is not simply a matter of job losses. This Budget does nothing to cushion the blow.