20 MARCH 2015

As we noted in our previous blog, the Government’s spring Budget for 2015 has been a disappointment for women: it failed to mention a single policy which was specifically targeted to benefit them. Many of the new policies announced could actually have negative side effects on women’s finances.

But are the other parties any better? The Liberal Democrats and Labour have both responded to the Budget. Have they taken the opportunity to put women on the political agenda?

The Liberal Democrats claim to have contributed some key ideas to the Chancellor’s Budget as part of the Coalition Government. Pledges to increase spending on mental health services, ease restrictions on pensioner annuities, and lift low-earners out of income tax are all policies which will help some women, but they are not policies which specifically aim to benefit women (1).

The Lib Dems also produced an ‘alternative Budget’ which aims to strike a middle ground between Conservative and Labour’s economic policies in the event of a Lib Dem government. Again there are no proposals designed to help women (2).

Labour has condemned the Chancellor’s Budget and claimed that the Government’s planned spending cuts in the next Parliament were dangerous (3). In particular, Ed Miliband criticised the Government for proposing future cuts to social care, saying that they place additional pressure on the NHS (4).

Labour’s acknowledgement of the crisis affecting care and carers is welcome, as women are both the majority of carers and the cared-for (5). However, Labour has not made any comment on how the latest Budget will squeeze women, nor what targeted policies it would introduce over the next five years.

Sadly, none of the three largest parties in Westminster seem to have women and the economy on their agenda. Nor have the Greens, UKIP, nationalist or unionist parties made any reference to women’s issues in their Budget responses either.

Fawcett feels the uncertainty around future spending plans is concerning and that a tight fiscal policy could continue to disproportionately harm women. The Institute for Fiscal Policy’s assessment is that austerity will continue but will be less severe. What this means for women is currently unclear (6).

In an economy where women make up almost half the labour force, the absence of any party holding the Government to account on its neglect of women is frustrating. Women need a party which is prepared to stand up for them, and they need it now.

(1) http://www.libdems.org.uk/budget-2015-packed-with-liberal-democrat-policies#

(2) http://www.libdems.org.uk/danny-alexander-sets-out-an-alternative-economic-plan-for-britain

(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31956459

(4) http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/03/budget-2015-full-text-of-ed-miliband-response/

(5) Women’s Budget Group – Report on the Autumn 2014 Budget http://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/FINAL-WBG-2014-budget-response.pdf

(6) http://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/budgets/budget2015/budget2015_gt.pdf