Budget Statement from the Women’s Equality Party
This is a macho budget. The Government has missed the opportunity to truly ‘level up’ the UK. By failing to prioritise investments in social infrastructure and properly fund measures to end violence against women and girls this government has made it clear that they are not interested in equality.
It was women who stepped up to fill the gaps created by cuts to public spending that left the UK vulnerable and unprepared for COVID-19 in the first place. But women, who took on the lionesses share of unpaid care, homeschooling, and acted as the first line of defence against the pandemic, are at breaking point.
Additional funding of the childcare sector will always be welcomed, but there can be no cause for celebration when the government’s own figures show current funding rates for free childcare hours are less than two thirds of what is needed. This year, more than 3000 childcare providers have closed down, and without urgent investment in the sector it will remain an unsustainable and unaffordable option for parents - especially single mothers.
An additional disappointment was the failure to mention the 3 million people that will be hit by the devastating double whammy of the £20 universal credit cut and price rises of food and utilities. The majority of those will be low-income or single parent households - 90% of which are women. Women of colour and disabled women will also be disproportionately affected. The Chancellor cannot operate on a chirpy, ‘business as usual’ platform when that approach rests on women’s backs.
Spending to tackle violence against women and girls was mentioned only in passing, and aside from vague references to clearing the backlog of rape cases in the courts and an offer of 20 thousand new police officers, nothing more was announced. The Independent Office of Police Conduct have stated that preventing gender-based violence sholud be as much of a priority as counter-terrorism - a measure we have been calling for since the start of the year. The Chancellor must move away from haphazard and piecemeal measures, and truly commit to providing all the resources necessary to end violence against women, not just manage it.
A lack of public spending is not only a reflection of our unequal society, but a direct contributor to violence against women and girls. Papering over gaping cracks in the system instead of repairing the damage caused by COVID-19 and over a decade of austerity is not just pushing the problem further down the line - frankly, it is an insult to those most impacted by the erosion of our social infrastructure.
After a year when over 41,000 lives were lost in care homes and women across the country have spoken out about feeling unsafe on the streets and in our homes, I am astonished by the fact that the Chancellor spent more time talking about cuts to alcohol duty than investing in social care, ending violence against women and girls, bolstering universal credit, or boosting social housing provision. This tells you everything you need to know about our Government’s priorities. Once again, we are plunging into a winter where those who are struggling to make ends meet will be left out in the cold. And they’re more concerned with superficial political points, than actually doing the hard work of supporting the people who need them most.
Leader of the Women’s Equality Party