UK Policy Briefings
Spring Budget 2023: Social security and gender
Date Posted: Thursday 2nd March 2023
Women are more likely than men to rely on social security for a larger part of their income because they earn less than men on average and are more likely to have disabilities and caring responsibilities, leaving them with less time for paid work across a lifetime. A social security system that provides for women is vital to recognise their humanity and wider contributions to society beyond paid employment.
Cuts and changes made to benefits since 2010 under the umbrella of austerity have resulted in reductions in payments and increases in women’s, children’s and in-work poverty. The introduction of Universal Credit (UC), the benefit cap, the two-child limit, the ‘bedroom tax’, the benefits freeze and other changes have exacerbated inequalities based on gender, race, class and disability.
The £20 Universal Credit uplift that was introduced as a response to the pandemic has now been reversed despite calls for it to be made permanent. To provide winter support after the uplift ended, the government announced a £500 million Household Support Fund. However, it was insufficient to compensate for the losses arising from the end of the uplift.
Subsequently, the cost of living crisis has meant that inflation outstripped the increase in benefits received in April 2022, so increasing benefits from April 2023 in line with inflation is welcome, as is the uprating of the benefits cap. However, inequalities from measures introduced from 2010 remain and UC is failing in its ambitions to ‘make work pay’, lift people out of poverty and provide income to meet basic needs. The conditionality of UC and deductions disproportionately disadvantage lone mothers, survivors of domestic abuse, disabled and minority ethnic women. Additionally, Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which determine the amount of Housing Benefit (HB) that people can claim, have been frozen since 2020 so they haven’t been following inflation rates. This has left many low-income private renters facing a shortfall between the HB they can claim and their actual rents.
‘The ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) policy that prevents many migrant women from accessing certain public funds, leaves many women on family and dependant visas economically dependent on their partners and facing destitution if the relationship breaks down.’
The current system is proving to be inadequate in mitigating the effects of the cost of living and incomes crises. As people continue to struggle to make ends meet in the face of sky-high food inflation and energy costs, a generous and sustainable social security system that provides income security, decent living standards and promotes well-being is vital.
In the short term, the Women’s Budget Group calls for the real value of benefits to be increased and to retain regular uprating of social security benefits in line with CPI. Policies such as the benefit cap, two-child limit and the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ rule should be abolished and Child Benefit increased to £50 per child.
In the longer term, insofar as is possible, we call for social security to be non-means-tested, based on individual entitlement and encourage the sharing of care. This should be done in consultation with users, with the impact on equality assessed at every stage as part of a holistic review of public spending and taxation.