Inequalities in a crisis reinforce the need for a gendered lens in policy making

In the second in the WISE blog series, Angela O’Hagan offers a quick review of debates and evidence in feminist analysis over the last week which has seen the publication of new reports, including the Women’s Budget Group ‘Crises Collide: Women and Covid-19’.  The importance of gender analysis and research has also been underscored in the latest THE Impact Rankings which have placed GCU as 1st in Scotland for gender equality research and promoting decent work and economic growth, two research areas at the core of the WISE Centre for Economic Justice.

Inequalities in a crisis reinforce the need for a gendered lens in policy making

In last week’s blog, Umut and James focused on the borders of the EU and the withdrawal from multi-lateral policy.  That reinforcement of borders has significant consequences for the lives of migrants globally.  The need for enduring compassion and concern for the welfare of migrant people and asylum seekers was reinforced during a global webinar on care organised by the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) on 15 April.  Jeanine Anderson discussed the need for compassion in caring for the Venezuelan migrants arriving in Peru in significant numbers.  Naila Kabeer highlighted the forced movement and displacement of migrant workers in India and the welfare and economic consequences for millions of people in this situation.

The focus of the webinar, like many of our professional and personal discussions just now, was on care.  Specifically, on valuing the provision of care and recognising the value of care givers, who are mainly women.  Feminist researchers have been investigating, highlighting, and teaching on the gendered dimensions of care and the structural inequalities that are exacerbated by the continuing assumptions and attribution of gendered roles on women’s economic status.  As we see the toll of C-19 on the population in general, and in particular on women care workers and health care workers, and on black and minority ethnic workers in health and social care as well as in our communities in general, we see the even more urgent and essential need for equality to be at the heart of our political decision making processes.

Equality and human rights assessments and analysis are not a second order activity within decision making on policies, programmes and resources.  They are integral to the development of good policy making with better outcomes for all.  Gender budgeting is about examining the evidence of how women and men, boys and girls experience everyday services and activities – education, healthcare, social care, social security, transport, skills and training, and so on.  Transparency and analysis of how resources are raised and allocated means that policy makers and those of us outside government whether in universities or in local communities can see whether decisions being made are likely to further entrench or eliminate existing inequalities.

#amidstitall has been much used phrase on Twitter these days.  Amidst all the frantic response to C-19 are the everyday inequalities and realities of poverty, poor housing, violence against women and girls, and hunger.  Over 1.5m people in the UK were already missing at least one meal every day before the current health and economic crisis.  That is only one of many indicators of the extent of inequalities that public policy and public resources have to eliminate.   It is one of the consequences of ten years of the withdrawal of public services, dismantling and reduction of welfare and social security entitlements, and an increasingly casualization and precarity in the labour market which in turn has contributed to a sustained increase in in-work poverty.  While the UK government sought to impress upon the public its concern for ‘hard-working’ families, the poorest families – and particularly those headed by women and women of colour – have seen their incomes slashed.  Data from the UK Women’s Budget Group has consistently revealed the impacts of tax and benefit changes on women.  Cumulative analysis of changes since 2010 to 2020 reveals a drop in living standards for lone mothers (who represent 92% of lone parents) 18% – just under £9,000 of income.  Black and Asian households already in the lowest fifth of incomes have experienced the biggest average drop in living standards of 19.2% and 20.1%, respectively. This equates to a real-terms annual average loss in living standard of £8,407 and £11,678.  So amidst the refrain of “we are all in this together”, which in many ways we are, the differences of experience and impact are not being experienced equally.

This week, the Commission on a Gender Equal Economy produced its interim report in multiple formats.  ‘Spirals of Inequality’ is worth two minutes of anyone’s time for a look at the compelling video which so expertly summarises the gendered dimensions of so many of the inequalities laid bare by the coronavirus crisis.  Now is not the time to say “we told you so” in relation to the gendered dynamics that are hard-wired into an economic system and political structure that has not worked for women.  It is the time to look for and take action on the alternatives that the WISE Centre for Economic Justice continues to explore along with colleagues in IAFFE, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, Women’s Budget Group, Scottish Women’s Budget Group, and others, along with our local and global partners.  It is also the time for the Scottish Government to action the calls for intersectional gender equality and human rights to be integral to the recovery strategy and the institutional structures around them, including the Economic Recovery Advisory Group.

Dr Angela O’Hagan

Deputy Director, WISE Centre for Economic Justice

Independent Chair, Scottish Government Equality and Budgets Advisory Group, and member of the Disability and Carers Benefits Advisory Group.

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