Why Britain must adopt gender budgeting
It is becoming increasingly clear that the next step in the fight for equality will be in finally creating a Budget that works for women
This year, budget day fell on International Women’s Day – a global event that allows us to celebrate achievements while also marking how far we have to go to achieve equality. This year, budget day fell on International Women’s Day – a global event that allows us to celebrate achievements while also marking how far we have to go to achieve equality.
There is no doubt that we have come a long way. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the next step in the fight for gender economic equality will be in finally creating a Budget that works for women.
New House of Commons Library analysis has revealed that, as of the 2017 budget, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes have come from women. That is the same as the last autumn statement but higher than 2015, when the figure was 81%.
Many people assume that budgeting is a gender-neutral process – that budgets benefit and impact on everyone equally – but this is not the case. The figure of 86% shows that this is not true. Clearly, those in charge of making economic policies are not effectively auditing the impact of their decisions on women. No amount of one-off cash giveaways and centenary celebrations will be sufficient if systematically, fundamentally, the budget is where women’s economic equality is undermined.
Gender auditing budgets is not a new concept. More than 40 countries already gender budget, and several more countries are actively pursuing plans to begin the process. I believe the UK must – and should – be the next, especially given these worrying figures.
There are several key reasons why women are hit particularly hard by this government’s policies. Social security payments make up a greater share of women’s income than men’s, as they still earn less in the labour market. A higher proportion of women than men are employed by the public sector, which is constantly under attack and facing cuts. Tax breaks that benefit the highest earners disproportionately affect women, as they tend to be in lower-earning roles.
When looking at ways budgets can work for women, these factors must be taken into account during the formative process to ensure that women are not disproportionately penalised.
Gender proofing is especially crucial now as the UK begins its negotiation plans to exit the European Union. At a time of economic uncertainty for everybody, it is vital that we commit to ensuring that women are not left out of financial negotiations and the resulting economic decisions.
That’s why, last week, I announced Labour’s plans to consult on an economic equality bill. During this year-long consultation, we will meet with women’s groups and people with disabilities. Of particular interest is the voice of women from the BAME community as research from the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group shows that, in every income group, they lose the greatest proportion of their earnings.
Labour is committed to address the structural blocks which are stopping women from all backgrounds and age groups from achieving their true potential – be that because they are systematically disadvantaged having come from a BAME community, or because they’re forced out of work through maternity discrimination.
What is frustrating is that the obligation for the government to gender-proof policies already exists in current legislation. Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 enshrined in law the public sector duty which requires public authorities to have due regard for equality considerations.
In Section 149 of the Act, Labour placed the provision that any public body must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to “eliminate discrimination” and “advance equality of opportunity” for those with protected characteristics, which include gender and ethnicity.
I believe that a lack of transparency in how equality considerations are taken into account, coupled with outdated and biased assumptions in accounting and policy, have led to the reality that is the 86% figure. Only effective gender budgeting from the start of all economic policies can bring this figure down to a level that is fair on all women in the UK.
Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham and shadow women and equalities minister