Giving with one hand, taking away with two – the 2015 Budget

Women are going to be pushed further into a poverty trap following a Budget that offers little to help them increase their income, the Fawcett Society believes. We fear that many more will find themselves in a low benefit, low wage situation that is increasingly difficult to escape.

Most of the increase in personal tax allowance is likely to reduce men’s tax bills while a small group of low income women will be taken out of paying income tax. Over the last Parliament, 94 per cent of the £17 billion spent on this policy went to cutting income tax for those who pay it, 58 per cent of whom were men.

Fawcett welcomes the increase of free childcare to 30 hours for three and four year olds but it is still not enough to cover a full time working week. We see high quality, free childcare as crucial for economic independence and equality for both men and women. Two thirds of mothers see the cost of childcare as a barrier to them working, and two fifths see it as their biggest barrier.

However, the restriction of child universal and tax credit allowances to first and second-born children only is a concern. Children shouldn’t be punished for being born third and could have a severe impact on working, especially single, parents, as well as limiting family choice.

While Fawcett is delighted that the overall gender pay gap is at an all-time low and that there are a record number of women in work, the prospects for achieving genuine parity seem limited:

  • We are disappointed that measures to address gender balance in university subjects, especially STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees, are absent from the Budget. While the Government’s measures to double the number of apprenticeships are a great boost to young low-income women, women tend to be over represented in low paid apprenticeships. 58,000 women took up apprenticeships in health and social care, and almost 25,000 in children’s care in 2012 but just 490 women were studying engineering apprenticeships.
  • Fawcett is concerned that changes to the maintenance grant will see a fall in the number of poorer women studying overall.
  • While the Chancellor has announced investment in physical infrastructure like roads and rail, Fawcett would like to see an equivalent investment in services that are important for families, such as care services, education, parks, community housing and public transport.

“The Chancellor is giving with one hand but taking away with two in a low benefits, low wages economy,” says Chair Belinda Phipps. “Tinkering with tax breaks and investing in physical infrastructure ignores the fact that the poorest people, who are mostly women, will still struggle to live.

“The Government has shown it is not serious about progressing real equality for women. Dictating family size through tax and benefits is also the thin end of a dangerous wedge.”

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