Christine Quigley, member of the Young Fabian Work and Families Policy Development Group, argues that the coalition government should not take support for granted from women who benefited so much under Labour.
Today’s announcement on Child Benefit cuts for higher-rate taxpayers is the most recent example in this Government’s litany of disregard for women. Osborne’s announcement today (well-timed to bury media coverage of the latest revelations on Andy Coulson) means that households where one earner takes home £44,000 a year will lose out on this valuable universal benefit. What is missing in this debate is an analysis of how the cuts will affect inter-family dynamics.
Many UK households still follow the typical male-breadwinner model, with the husband or male partner earning the main income, and women working part-time, on lower incomes, or not at all. (The full-time gender pay gap still sits at nearly 17% forty years after the introduction of the Equal Pay Act.) For those women who don’t work, either through choice or necessity, the Child Benefit payment may well be the only money directly paid to them, as Katherine Rake points out. An income of just over £20 a week may not seem like much, but it allows a measure of control and independence. A plethora of academic studies such as Lundberg, Pollak and Wales (1997) point out the common assumption that family incomes are pooled, so that the distribution of income within the family doesn’t matter. The same study finds that the move from tax credits (generally received by the father) to Child Benefit (paid directly to the mother) in the UK saw greater expenditure on children’s (and women’s) clothing.
Once again, the Con-Dem Government hasn’t taken equity between men and women into account. We already know, thanks to Yvette Cooper, that women will bear the brunt of spending cuts from this year’s Budget, but an impact assessment from the Treasury is sadly unavailable publicly.
Conventional political-science wisdom holds that women are inherently more likely to vote for conservative parties. It may well be that the UK’s Conservatives are banking on our support – but selling women down the river won’t win our votes. Let’s not forget Labour’s achievements for women; from the Equal Pay Act and national minimum wage, to better maternity pay, Sure Start, free breast cancer screening, support for victims of domestic violence and increased political representation for women. Today’s cuts are symptomatic of what the Con-Dem Government really thinks of women – we must stand for progressive policies.