Chancellor’s big moment missed the mark, especially for women

Date Posted: Wednesday 25th November 2020

Commenting on the Chancellor’s Spending Review today, Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group said:
“This Spending Review was an opportunity to set the direction for post-Brexit, post-Covid Britain. The Chancellor talked about the highest level of peacetime debt but failed to match the ambition of the post-war period which led to the creation of the welfare state.

This was a moment requiring similar vision. The pandemic has shone a light on inequalities and the way austerity has undermined our public services. Today, we needed to see investment to create the economy and society that we need to see.

Unfortunately, the Chancellor has missed the mark, especially for women, Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups, older and disabled people, who have been worst impacted by the pandemic. Moves like the public pay freeze for many and failure to sufficiently refinance local authorities are de facto a return to austerity Britain which left the UK so vulnerable to coronavirus in the first place.”

On work and earnings:
“The increase to the National Living Wage is a positive development for women who are 69% of low paid workers, with Black, Asian, ethnic minority and migrant women worst off.

However, the Public Sector Pay freeze for all those earning over £24,000 is an insult to the key workers who the Government clapped for every Thursday in the Spring. Women are twice as likely than men to be key workers and two-thirds of public sector workers are women leaving them more vulnerable to the real terms pay cut.

At a time when we all need to be working together, it was disappointing to see the Chancellor pitting public sector workers against private sector workers. Especially when the divide is not so simple: many workers who sustain the public sector like cleaners, porters and carers are also outsourced to the private sector.

Job-creating investment was targeted on physical infrastructure like roads and rails; these policies will do little for the many women who have lost or are likely to lose jobs in 2021 – 12.5% of construction workers are women. Once again, social infrastructure – like social care and childcare- has been left out in the cold without the reform and sufficient investment needed.”

On the social security silence:
“The failure to make permanent the £20 uplift to Universal Credit or to extend it to those claiming other benefits which pre-date UC – including large numbers of disabled people, who have faced some of the worst impacts of the pandemic – will cause hardship. Even with the uplift, the untenable restrictions like the benefit cap, two child limit and five week wait, within the social security system will continue to punish struggling people across the country. It will also be a false economy, reducing the spending power by those most likely to spend any increase in their income, the poorest in society.”

On ‘levelling down’ for social infrastructure:
“In infrastructure and climate announcements, it is frustrating to see the repeated focus on hard hats and homes, cars and construction. Physical infrastructure is urgently needed to decarbonise our economy and more social housing should be an immediate priority.

But, in 2020, when social infrastructure like social care and childcare – where women are the majority of workers and recipients – have proven so desperately in need of funding and reform, it’s disappointing to see these neglected once again. Investing in them would be an ideal way of ‘levelling up.’

The Chancellor’s extension of the £1 billion central Government grants to local authorities for social care as well as the £300 million extra announced, while welcome, is a drop in the ocean compared to the investment and reform needed. Giving councils more scope to increase local taxes will only further regional inequalities where the poorest local authorities receive the least funding. This is the opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Early years education and childcare received even less investment despite the fact that 1 in 4 childcare centres say they may close within the year due to financial mismanagement during the pandemic. If nurseries and care homes close, elderly people, disabled people and children are more likely to be left in the unpaid care of women, closing off their opportunities for paid work and turning back the clock on gender equality and economic growth.

WBG research finds that if the Government were serious about creating jobs, and responding to the climate emergency they would invest in care: investing in care would create 2.7 times as many jobs as the same investment in construction: 6.3 as many for women and 10% more for men. And, 50% more can be recouped by the Treasury in direct and indirect tax revenue from investment in care than in construction.”

“The Spending Review 2020 coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. As well as failing to account for structural sexism and racism within the criminal justice system, announcing more police and prisons, does very little to support victims/survivors of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse, violence and femicide sky-rocketed during the Spring lockdown and the Government was slow to respond, the funding injection barely touched what has been cut from specialist support services since 2010. If the Government is serious about ending violence against women investment is needed in preventative services particularly for BAME support services and not more police and prisons.”

On future tax reform:
“The Chancellor is right to focus on borrowing in the short term. Now is not the time to be raising taxes on most people: we need them to be spending to boost the economy. But it is a good time to be reforming the tax system to make it fairer for the future. Equalising taxes on all forms of earnings and taxing capital gains on the same basis as income would create a fairer tax system that could eventually be called on when needed, to reduce debt.”

On defence and aid spending:
“WBG recognises the extraordinary value foreign aid does in promoting gender justice around the world. Cutting the foreign aid budget while announcing extravagant spending on defence undermines the Prime Minister’s commitment to a ‘global Britain.’ This is a double cut to the poorest at a time when global collaboration is needed.”

On Equality Impact Assessments:
“The Treasury has not complied with the EHRC guidance on Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs), only providing examples of ‘good practice’ as opposed to undertaking meaningful analysis. Women and minority groups have experienced the worst impacts of the pandemic, in part due to the failure to do proper EIAs. The Treasury should set an example across Government at this crucial time.”


Contact: Thaira Mhearban 07736658951
Mary-Ann Stephenson 07957338582 

Notes to Editors:
The UK Women’s Budget Group is a network who analyse the economic impact of Government policy on different groups of women and promote alternatives for a gender-equal future. Our policy briefings on coronavirus and inequalities can be found here:

Social care, Gender and Covid-19

Childcare, Gender and Covid-19

Local Government, Gender and Covid-19

Social security, Gender and Covid-19

Household debt, Gender and Covid-19

Housing, Gender and Covid-19

Health inequalities and Covid-19

Covid-19 and economic challenges for disabled women

Covid-19 and economic challenges for migrant women

Covid-19 and economic challenges for young women