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What Does the Budget Mean for Women?

17/03/2016 08:40 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Last weekend the Women's Budget Group published a cumulative assessment of ten years of austerity, covering both the Coalition government (2010-15) and the policies announced thus far by the Conservative government that took office in May 2015.

The findings of the research could not have been starker: the ten percent lowest income households will experience a drop in annual living standards of 23% by 2020, while the richest 10% see their living standards fall by only 5% (see Figure 1). Households headed by women - female lone parents and single female pensioners - are also disproportionately hit, experiencing an average annual drop in living standards of 20% by 2020.

Wednesday's Budget is unlikely to change that picture. The Chancellor has cut taxes for corporations and lifted the threshold for the 40p income tax - both measures that will predominantly benefit men - while making cuts to essential services and to benefits for people with disabilities.

He has again failed to invest in the social infrastructure - the health, education and care services we all depend on to lead healthy and secure lives. This is despite the fact that even international institutions, including the OECD, are now calling for rich countries to ease up on austerity. Women will be harder hit by the failure to invest in care as they are both more likely than men to be care recipients and (paid or unpaid) carers.

Our research shows that investing in the social infrastructure makes good economic sense, as well as delivering better social outcomes and promoting gender equality. Modelling carried out by the Women's Budget Group on behalf of the ITUC found that investing 2% of GDP in care will create twice as many jobs as the same investment in construction, and has greater economic benefits than continued austerity. It would also raise women's employment by five percentage points, thereby helping to close the gender employment gap. Yet, for the Chancellor 'investment' means another road or railway. With just 17% of the construction workforce female, such investment will only exacerbate gender inequalities .

The Chancellor announced several measures to incentivise saving. Given their lower incomes, women have struggled to save. It seems unrealistic to expect this to change at a time when evictions are at record levels and personal debt is rising as people struggle pay for basic living costs. The Chancellor had an opportunity to address pension tax relief, which benefits the highest earners, but instead is raising nearly £2billion from public sector pensions, again disproportionately impacting women who are the majority of public sector employees.

Far from being a Budget for the 'next generation', the measures announced today risk condemning many more to a life of insecurity as the public services and social security system is further eroded. Surely, as evidence mounts that the long term economic plan is failing on its own terms - the Chancellor today broke two of his three fiscal rules - it is time for a rethink?