The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday unveiled a Spring Budget on International Women’s Day. But how effective will his announcements be for tackling gender inequality? Reema Patel outlines the announcements in the Budget most likely to affect women.
‘Gender equality is good economics.’ – Kristalina Georgieva (former EU commissioner)
Extra £2bn funding for social care
Pledging an additional £2bn for the funding of social care over a three year period is both long overdue and very welcome. Doing so will resource a sector where women predominantly undertake the bulk of unpaid care work and where women make up the majority of the paid workforce - almost 82% of social workers are female.
But some might argue that £2bn extra over a period of three years is merely a drop in the ocean for local authorities and vulnerable families struggling to meet the demands placed on an increasingly overburned social care system. A sticking plaster on a gaping wound, as it were.
Childcare entitlements for 3-4 year olds
Seeing childcare entitlements double to 30 hours a week from September 2017 for working parents with three and four year olds, with tax free childcare to save families up to £2000 a year again represents another welcome move.
But these entitlements would continue to extend only to parents with three and four year olds. This is despite the fact that often the greatest barriers and highest childcare costs for women reentering the workplace emerge immediately after maternity leave. The existing system simply does not support parents to re-enter the workplace immediately after they have had a child.
There is also a wider concern expressed by childcare providers that funding on offer for childcare provision does not help meet the basic or core costs of delivering childcare. This is likely to place pressure on parents to ‘top up’ the childcare entitlements they have been given, as well as place pressure on childcare providers to cut their overhead costs at risk to the families affected.
Increase in the Living Wage
The Chancellor announced that the Living Wage would increase by 30p an hour from £7.20 to £7.50. Given that the Fawcett Society recently reported that over 60% of those that are earning less than the Living Wage are women, this measure is to be welcomed, and will make a significant difference to women on low incomes.
Return to work schemes & the gender pay gap
The Chancellor announced an additional £5m for return-to-work schemes, predominantly targeted at women returning from maternity leave. Again, this is a welcome intervention.
But arguably, the problem of the gender pay gap (a difference of 14.2% in 2014 in the UK) is going to require a more complex, multi-faceted approach than £5m for return-to-work schemes (helpful as it may be to have the clear signal from the Chancellor that something needs to be done to tackle the pay gap).
In particular this measure does little to highlight the need for systemic change – often the work women do is valued less than the work men do. This is starkly illustrated by the fact that many women work in sectors that systematically pay less than work in other sectors (care work, social work, nursing or cleaning, for instance).
All in all, it's likely that this Budget that will certainly have a tangible positive social impact for women - but much more leadership is required from the Chancellor on the issue of tackling gender equality if any meaningful reform is likely to be realised.