The budget has arrived delivering little more than a tinkering round the edges and as per usual next to nothing for women. The issue here is that the budget is shaped around a very narrow notion of the economy, namely the notion that what counts is the GDP, jobs and productivity. This approach overlooks activities that sustain our economic growth, our social reproduction and does not take measure of our NNP, our net National Product – a calculation that might better show the economic wellbeing of ordinary citizens.
These budgets are set under a paradigm that sees men as the main earners in society and seeks to make policies that win voter approval on this basis. In this paradigm policies are geared towards the growth in traditionally male dominated spheres. Heavy industries and infrastructure projects which lead to employment of men – such as rail building, are favoured over investment in social infrastructure where more women are employed – Health, Education and Care for example. Surprising though it might be that the Conservatives will be working with the TUC on their newly announced construction skills programme this will on the whole lead to skills and work for men rather than women. And again while Hammond spoke of white van men AND women driving their diesel vans with impunity, exempt from the new charges on polluting vehicles, lets face it very few of those van drivers are women. Gender neutrality here hides the fact that this is an exemption for men.
In education funding has been set aside to encourage children to study maths and computer science. While this funding is welcome, it has to be noted that these are subjects where there is a huge gender imbalance, which the UK has done nothing to address: currently 60 % of Math A levels are taken by boys and 40% by girls and a mere 10% of Computer Science A levels are taken by girls. This is gender imbalance is not seen in other countries. And while schools will be competing to win this funding and become specialist maths schools this policy does nothing to address the future cuts schools are facing. This specialist maths school funding amounts to a plug for amount already lost for a select few while the rest of our schools are still set to contend with losses of up to -15% per year.
While action is being taken to encourage house building - £44 billion of capital funding loans- we can’t be sure what percentage of these new houses will be so called ‘affordable’ homes, affordable homes that are not affordable for most people. What we need, what women disproportionately need is social housing. However this government is focused on first time buyers and helping them get on the housing ladder by abolishing stamp duty, this will not help the most vulnerable in our society.
The impacts of the budget on women are striking for what was not mentioned. No mention for example of the gap in social care or women’s frontline services. Cuts already made to these sectors will continue to impact women to their detriment. Cuts to the public service sector, the continued underfunding of the NHS, areas where women are both a higher proportion of employees and users of these services have not been redressed. Indeed it will be women who will pick up the unpaid care work for those who have been failed by both our NHS and our depleted social care system. And while paltry sums of money will be dished out here and there, none of the policies announced today come anywhere close to addressing the damage done by previous budgets.