The Prime Minister recently declared that austerity is over. Well, when the Chancellor delivers the Budget next week in Parliament they have the chance to prove it. He will have the opportunity to put the money where the Prime Minister’s mouth is. But I won’t hold my breath.
A shocking 86% of the cuts from the Conservatives’ politically-driven austerity agenda has fallen on the shoulders of women. It has had such a devastating effect on society, our public services and our communities.
Take Universal Credit, that flagship and failing policy. This alone will mean women on average lose more than men – working women will lose on average £1,400 of their annual income. And for black women it is even worse.
With budgets slashed by £7billion since 2010, social care is in crisis and – as the main carers, both paid and unpaid, and as the majority of those in need of care – women are the worst affected, often having to give up work to fill the gaps in council services.
Specialist refuges are a lifeline for women fleeing from domestic abuse, but since 2010 almost a fifth of these vital – often lifesaving – services have been forced to close, with funding cut by a quarter.
In employment, inequalities are huge with women accounting for 70% of low earners. In my constituency in Brent, people earn 30% less than they need to live on. That is why we have had such a huge increase in the use of foodbanks, and it exposes the lie of the Government’s pathetic rebranding of the “living” wage.
An end to austerity must mean an end to these cuts, and proper investment for our schools, our NHS and social care, our police, and our councils. But it has to mean more than that.
It has to mean immediately stopping the callous and chaotic roll-out of Universal Credit and addressing the deep flaws affecting women. It has to also mean reducing the barriers to women entering the workplace – such as the high cost of childcare, the gender pay gap and unequal caring responsibilities. And it must mean addressing the desperate need for sustainable, long-term funding model for women’s refuges, and putting in place ongoing funding for the violence against women and girls strategy to meet the needs of victims.
Labour has called on the Government to publish equality impact assessments of its Budgets, but it has refused. What are ministers afraid they’ll reveal? If Monday’s Budget comes without such an assessment, you can guarantee it will be bad news for women and minority groups.
The Budget must – and would if Labour were in government – turn around these structural inequalities. If it does not, it will be a Halloween Budget of all tricks and no treats.
If, once again, women, disabled people, the unemployed, and people from BAME backgrounds disproportionately suffer from the Government’s policies, as they have for so many years under the Tories, then it will be yet further evidence that is austerity is far from over.