Philip Hammond's budget focussed on productivity. But we can’t have a properly productive economy until the gendered nature of work is taken seriouslyby Erin Mansell / November 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Boosting productivity, Philip Hammond said in his Budget speech, is “the key to delivering our vision of a stronger, fairer, more balanced economy.” Yet once again, like previous chancellors of all political colours, he overlooked a key group with huge potential to boost productivity—women.
The Chancellor demonstrated that he thinks to “choose the future” is to choose men; extending the productivity investment fund to £31 billion to invest in physical infrastructure and technology, and focussing on house-building to support home-ownership, when the Women’s Budget Group has shown that women are overrepresented in social housing but only make up 31 per cent of people buying homes.
There was no mention of investing in social infrastructure, despite estimates that investing in care can create twice as many jobs as investing in construction, and is more effective in reducing public deficits and debt than austerity policies.
The £2.8 billion resource funding for the NHS over the next three years might stem the immediate crisis in our national health service, but what about the crisis in social care—which Hammond failed to mention at all? The gap in funding is estimated to be £2.3 billion a year by 2020. Adult social care is held together by women—they are 80% of the workforce —compared to the construction industry in which nearly 90% of employees are male.
Further plans for devolution to the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse include developments based on HS2 and the Redcar steelworks. We welcome investment decisions being made locally but, since all the metro mayors are men, we urgently call on the Department for Communities and Local Government to review the £1.7bn transforming cities fund in terms of how it could benefit women.
The maths premium announced by the Chancellor should reward schools for specifically supporting girls into A-level maths, so it does not perpetuate the occupational segregation created by gender stereotypes and reinforced through children’s education. Without specific incentives, schools—already facing substantial reductions in funding—could look first to male pupils to bring in the extra money.
It is a relief that the Chancellor rowed back on some elements of the Universal Credit delivery under public pressure (including from Women’s Equality Party members). But he has made no changes to the design itself, which has been proven to affect women, black and minority ethnic people and disabled people the most, pushing them into poverty and keeping them in poverty. His claim that “work always pays” is simply not true: cuts and changes to the benefits and tax system mean black women stand to lose an average of £5,030 a year whether they are in employment or not.
In the face of crashing growth forecasts, the Chancellor made much yesterday of reduced income inequalities over the last 30 years. But he failed to mention inequalities between the income of men and women—which widened this year—and the measured pay gap does not include unpaid workers such as full-time mothers, who are labelled “economically inactive” by the Treasury. The economic value of the unpaid care work done by an army of unseen women is £77 billion a year.
If we invested in care—childcare, social care, healthcare, care for older and disabled people —women’s work would be remunerated, jobs would be created and women would be able to join the workforce. The value of their work would be reflected in our levels of productivity. Instead, the UK currently has the most expensive childcare in the world, an 18 percent pay gap and a 16 percent productivity gap behind other G7 nations. We have to start joining the dots.
Measures announced yesterday will do nothing to narrow the gap, and women being in lower income roles means women are still in fewer positions of power and are more likely to have male managers and bosses.
If half of all CEOs, half of all MPs, half of all film directors and producers, half of all board members and half of all managers were women; if young people starting work saw women at every level thriving and remaining in the workforce when they have caring responsibilities; if women were not routinely discriminated against for getting pregnant and raising children; and if industries dominated by women were not characterised by low wages, women’s power and visibility would begin to equal men’s, and everyone would benefit from increased productivity and a healthier economy.
But instead the government is ploughing on with fiscal policies aimed to rescue the economy at the expense of women. An economy built around men is not an inevitability, but a political choice. It is time to do politics differently.