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Spending Review 2015: Still failing to invest in women’s security

Spending Review 2015: Still failing to invest in women’s security

The Chancellor in his opening remarks to the Autumn Statement and Spending Review 2015 promised to ‘put security first’ and to ‘leave to the next generation a stronger country than the one we inherited’. Yet with further cuts to the social infrastructure that will see public spending, as a proportion of national income, fall to nearly its lowest level since the war, the daily lives of many will be increasingly insecure.
Yet again women stand to lose the most, and gain the least. The Chancellor has reiterated his commitment to delivering a budget surplus by 2019/2020 and to achieving this largely through expenditure cuts, which, our analysis shows, disproportionately impact women and those on low incomes, such as lone parents and female single pensioners.

This disproportionately adverse impact on women is not surprising when the announcements are looked at in detail. While the decision to reverse the tax credit cuts may have improved the picture for women in the short term, many of the planned savings have merely been postponed rather than abandoned altogether. The announcement hardly constitutes a ‘u-turn’. The Chancellor remains committed to saving £12bn and will achieve this by 2019/20, with the majority of savings to be realised from the freeze on benefits (£4bn), introduction of universal credit (£4-5bn)) and housing benefit (£1.5bn). These benefits make up a greater share of women’s incomes and are a vital safety net that provides security for individuals and families when they need it most. Of the £82bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending announced since 2010 that will be implemented over this Parliament, 81% will come from women.

The Chancellor has again failed to make adequate investments in social care to ensure the security of those in society who are unwell or frail. The care sector is in crisis, with funding not keeping pace with costs and need, and the Spending Review does little to help. It has been estimated that by 2020, additional funding of £8bn will be required in the social care sector, yet the announced measures will raise only £3.5bn at a maximum.  Women stand to lose the most from this as they are more likely to be in need of care and to be (paid and unpaid) carers.

Finally, many of the Spending Review announcements continue a trend of transferring responsibility and risk from the collective (State and society) to individuals. Housing policy becomes even more strongly focused on helping those at the margins of home ownership, rather than ensuring there is adequate supply of affordable social housing for those with the greatest need. In further and higher education yet more grants are replaced with loans. And, in what is perhaps the most stark and perverse illustration of this trend, the proceeds of the ‘tampon tax’ have been earmarked for domestic violence and women’s health charities. Tackling domestic violence, which is so vital to ensuring the day-to-day security of women, should be a fundamental responsibility of all in society. Yet with this measure it becomes both symbolically and literally the responsibility of women: it is their money that pays for the consequences of violence that, in the majority of cases, is perpetrated by men.

The WBG have repeatedly shown that there is an alternative that is both economically sound and lays the foundations for better social outcomes. This alternative, which we refer to as ‘Plan F’, advocates large-scale investment in the social infrastructure – the health, education, and care systems. Such investment has the potential to deliver employment gains on par with investment physical infrastructure, and crucially would deliver on the Chancellor’s promise to leave to the next generation a ‘stronger country’.

To read the full analysis of the Spending Review 2015 by the Women's Budget Group, click here.