UK Budget Assessments
Response to the 2003 Pre-Budget Report
Date Posted: Wednesday 10th December 2003
1. WBG is delighted that the UK government has made significant progress towards incorporating a gender perspective into economic and social policy in 2003. We look forward to seeing this approach developed and taken forward in 2004 and in the course of the next Spending Review. One essential next step is for HM Treasury to provide a full gender breakdown of expenditure figures so as to facilitate the meeting and monitoring of the Public Service Agreement (PSA) on gender equality and, in the longer term, all PSAs. In addition we would like to see the Gender Analysis of Expenditure Project Report made public. Not only would publication establish the UK as a forerunner on gender budget analysis in Europe, it would be an important step in setting standards for the development of best practice in the UK.
2. The New Deal for Skills should provide for the needs of low skill women, particularly returners and part-timers, and the needs of those most detached from the labour market must also be addressed as part of the Low Skills strategy. Current New Deal programmes, particularly New Deal for Lone Parents, should be revised to incorporate a greater training element as part of the Low Skills strategy.
3. We welcome the recognition by government of an argument put forward by WBG that starting a job can be a stressful time since children have to be settled into childcare, and that the costs of a formal childcare place for a lone parent who has found work through the NDLP will be met for up to one week before they start work. Help with childcare costs should be extended to other groups of parents likely to be unable to pay for childcare before entering employment. In particular all lone parents who start work whether or not they have found work through the NDLP and all parents who will become eligible for the childcare element of working tax credit when they start work.
4. The childcare element of Working Tax Credit needs to be reviewed in the context of the whole system of benefits for children and adapted to the needs of large families. Maximum levels of support need to be raised to more realistically reflect rising childcare costs in an undersupplied market, and the extension of coverage to home based childcare which can be much more expensive.
5. The wage-replacement levels for the first 6 months of maternity leave and for paternity leave should be raised and measures should be introduced to encourage parents to share the second 6 months allowance by integrating it into a system of paid parental leave. While parental leave remains unpaid, Working Tax Credit entitlement should be extended to cover any period of unpaid maternity or parental leave.
6. The government recognises the need to expand the childcare workforce. The medium term aim should be to close the pay and skills gaps between the teaching and childcare professions. This will require substantial and on-going investment in training and an increase in pay. It is essential that childcare providers are fully committed to and involved in improving the skills and qualifications of all their workers.
7. Currently only the state is able to remove the financial impact of the unpredictability of women’s working lives in relation to pension provision. It is therefore essential, if both current and future generations of women pensioners are to be lifted out of poverty, that the number of women entitled to the Basic State Pension (BSP) be raised, for example by adjustments to the current National Insurance contribution rules, and the adequacy of the BSP be improved.