UK Policy Briefings
Autumn Budget 2021: Social security and gender
Date Posted: Thursday 21st October 2021
“Social security has a vital role in securing economic independence for all women. Economic dependence makes women more vulnerable to domestic and sexual abuse and violence. This briefing explains how recent social security changes have disproportionately disadvantaged women, especially BAME women, disabled women, migrant women and lone parents.”
Social security is a gendered issue. Women are more likely than men to rely on social security for a greater part of their income, because on average they earn less than men. This is particularly true of women who cannot work because of disability, or because of caring commitments; the majority of disabled people, and the majority of those caring for disabled people, are women.
The Covid emergency revealed and heightened the urgent need for a social security system that protects people’s incomes and basic living standards. The number of people claiming Universal Credit doubled between March 2020 and January 2021, and there were increases in lone parent poverty and food bank use.
5.5 million people are affected by the withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift; some families have lost 21% of their income. The furlough scheme, which closed in September 2021, was being used by 1.6 million people in late July 2021. Other easement schemes that protected people from income shocks have also now ended.
“5.5 million people are affected by the withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift; some families have lost 21% of their income.”
Policy changes since 2010 – including the two-child limit, the benefits cap, the benefits freeze, and the introduction of Universal Credit – have exacerbated gendered impacts that were already present in the social security system. Lone parents, domestic abuse survivors, disabled women and BAME women have been particularly badly affected, and there has been an increase in poverty among women, children and those in work.
In the short term the Women’s Budget Group is calling for: the reinstatement of the Universal Credit uplift and the Working Tax Credit equivalent; the abolition of the benefits cap and the two-child limit; the conversion of Universal Credit advances into non-repayable grants; increases in ESA, Jobseekers’ Allowance and Statutory Sick Pay; an increase in Child Benefit to £50; and an end to the ‘No recourse to public funds’ condition, which excludes many migrant women from support.
In the longer term the Women’s Budget Group is calling for: social security that is not means-tested; that is based on individual entitlement; and that encourages the sharing of care work. 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.