Women and the budget: the chancellor has a chance to
put things right
- The Observer, Sunday 18 March 2012
Equal pay, affordable childcare, and a decent retirement should be every woman's right. But the Fawcett Society's powerful analysis shows we cannot take progress for granted, and that it is up to each generation of women to defend what has been achieved, as well as take it further.
The frontline services that women rely on most – like Sure Start and extended schools – are being badly damaged by the government's insistence on cutting so far and so fast. Over the last three months, 81% of the increase in unemployment has been among women. Research commissioned by Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, shows that women are paying more than two-thirds of the cost of the changes to tax, tax credits, benefits, pay and pensions that George Osborne has introduced.
This week the chancellor has a chance to rectify some of his mistakes, and redress some of the injustices. Labour is calling for a budget that puts jobs and growth first – because making it easier for women to find work or increase their earnings will be critical to helping women and families struggling with rising energy bills, petrol prices, train and bus fares.
So we are calling on the chancellor to restore planned increases to tax credits that he cancelled in the autumn, and cancel planned changes to rules on working hours that would leave some low-paid couples with children better off on benefits. This could be paid for by clampdown on the avoidance of stamp duty on properties worth over £1m, and by reversing a pension tax relief boost the chancellor has given to people on incomes of more than £150,000 (just 15% of whom are women).
And we are also calling for an urgent rethink of changes to child benefit due to come in next January that would mean a single mum, or a family where mum or dad stays at home, on £43,000, would lose all their child benefit, while a dual-earner household on £84,000 will keep all of theirs.
On public sector pay and pensions, we are pressing the government to do more to protect the incomes of lower-paid or part-time workers such as dinner ladies, teaching assistants, or carers – an especially high proportion of whom are women.
We can't avoid tough decisions on tax, spending and pay. But that makes it even more important that we take care to ensure women do not bear the heaviest burden.