POLICY BRIEFING. The impact of public spending cuts on women

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1 The impact of public spending cuts on women 15 September 2014 Rachel Salmon, LGIU Associate Summary This briefing summarises work from UNISON, national studies from the Women s Budget and the Women s Resource Centre as well as studies based on the experiences of women in Coventry and Liverpool, which attempt to quantify the impact of public spending cuts on women; The briefing brings together practical suggestions to help councils mitigate the impact of cuts on women; This briefing will be of particular interest to members and officers working in strategic policy and equality. Briefing in full National studies Counting the Cost, how cuts are shrinking women s lives, UNISON In their paper Counting the Cost, how cuts are shrinking women s lives, UNISON analysed responses to 334 Freedom of Information requests from councils and surveyed 7,554 women, mainly UNISON members working in local government, to establish how the cuts were impacting women s lives in the fields of safety, leisure, community and transport. They conclude that these cuts are narrowing women s opportunities and freedoms. According to UNISON, local councils will lose 11.3bn in government grants between and Some 82 million has been cut from Children s Centres and 285 have been forced to merge or close in the last three years. Leisure centres have seen a 13% cut in their budgets.

2 Councils have been forced to increase spending on street lighting by 9% to cover rises in energy costs, but this is still a real terms cut and over a million street lights have been switched off or dimmed for a period. Some 14.8m has been taken from community centres 159 council-funded centres have been lost in four years and 41.8m has been lost to local parks budgets since Councils have cut almost a fifth from library budgets and 13% from museums, Women s employment in local government has fallen by 250,000 since 2010 and according to the TUC women s under-employment has increased by 74% since the Coalition came to power. UNISON concludes women are being hit on both sides. They are more likely to work for local government and in the public sector generally and are facing the threat of redundancy and heavier workloads causing stress and anxiety. Nearly 30% of the women surveyed said they felt more cut off from finding a job. They are also reliant on services like children s centres, leisure facilities and public transport. Cuts to these services are increasing their sense of isolation and making them feel less safe. For example over 60% of those surveyed thought that parks and leisure services had got worse in the past year and over a third felt more cut off from their communities. UNISON is calling on central government to annually assess the impact of local spending decisions on women, and on local councils to restore women s spending power by improving pay and conditions. It has launched a campaign called Save our Local Services to fight cuts locally and nationally. To Ensure Economic Recovery for Women We Need Plan F, The Women s Budget Group The Women's Budget Group assessed the cumulative impact of planned and actual budget cuts on women between 2010 and According to them, social care has been cut by 23.4%, transport by 5.2% social housing by 33.8%, early years education and care by 19.0%, schools by 10.9%, higher, further and adult education by 32.6%, other services by 21.1% and health by 1.1%. They conclude that the cumulative impacts of these cuts will hit some types of households harder than others, notably single parents and pensioners, groups where women predominate and threatening their economic autonomy. The Women s Budget Group estimates single parents will lose 15.1%, single pensioners 11.6%, couples with children 9.7%, single adults with no children 9.7%, couple pensioners 8.6% and couples with no children 4.1%. As 85% of measures to tackle the deficit are coming from reductions in government budgets, and only 15% from tax increases, those on no, or very low incomes bear the brunt of the cuts. Even moves to raise the income tax threshold to 10,000 will benefit more men than women. Three quarters of households benefiting from this

3 measure are on higher incomes, with the poorest 10% gaining just 6 a year. This policy costs more than 1bn a year to implement. Figure 1: Effects of spending cuts and changes in tax/benefits on families with children as % of disposable income Figure 1 above illustrates that female single parents lose more than male, with the biggest losses accounted for tax and benefit changes, cuts to further and higher education, housing and social care. Similarly, as figure 2 illustrates, female pensioners living alone lose more than single male pensioners and couples.

4 Figure 2: Effects of spending cuts and changes to tax/benefits on pensioner families as a % of disposable income In the case of childless households, single women lose more than single men and couples as Figure 3 below shows.

5 Figure 3: Effects of changes to tax/benefits and spending cuts on working age households without children The WBG argue that public sector job losses hit women disproportionately, as 65% of public sector workers are women. Yet for every 100 net new private sector jobs created between 2009/10 and 2012/13 only 37 went to women, 56% of the 800,000 new private sector jobs during that period went to men, and while temporary posts have increased by 23% for women, they have only increased by 18% for men. Private sector jobs pay women less 31% less in than public sector jobs. Recently the government announced that it would invest 300bn in large infrastructure projects in housing and transport. This, the authors argue, will create few jobs for women given current patterns of job segregation. The WBG argue for Plan F, a plan for balanced economic recovery including; training for more women in construction; public and private employers to make jobs more family friendly and pay the living wage; the repeal of benefit changes like the bedroom tax which isolate women from their families and communities; reform of Universal Credit so that women with working partners gain more from earning; an expansion of social housing; childcare, and improved support for those providing unpaid support to relatives and friends.

6 The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Women s Equality, The Women s Resource Centre The Women's Resource Centre (WRC) assessed the impact of the economic downturn on women. They concluded that the Treasury could have done more to assess the impact of budget cuts on women and that no single government department is currently responsible for assessing the cumulative impacts of public spending cuts on women nationally. They observe that local government has had to implement many of these cuts and that the lifting of ring-fencing for services like children s centres and violence against women s services has led to significant differences in provision between areas. The report cites evidence from the IMF and World Bank which argues that reducing income equality is likely to reduce the likelihood of future economic crises, and research from the World Economic Forum which argues that greater gender equality is positively correlated with economic growth. The WRG say the emphasis on cutting public spending is regressive, and argue for more emphasis on raising taxes and investing in growth. Local studies Unravelling Equality, a human rights and equality impact assessment of the impact of public sector spending cuts on women in Coventry The University of Warwick Centre for Human Rights in Practice looked in detail at the impact of government spending cuts on women in Coventry, and assessed their impact on black and ethnic minority, and older women in detail. They noted that, in a city like Coventry, the pay gap between men and women was already 10 points higher than the national average, so public sector spending cuts had the potential to hit women in the area even harder. More women than men receive housing and other benefits in Coventry, so would be harder hit by changes to Local Housing Allowance and other welfare reforms such as reduced support to pregnant women and families with new babies and the requirement on single parents to seek work once their youngest child reaches five years. The researchers estimate that changes to tax and benefits would cost women in the city nearly 30m the cost to men, less than half this. The report estimates that 24% has been cut from the schools budget and a quarter from colleges in Coventry. The abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and introduction of higher education fees of up to 9,000 will restrict access to education for women. Over 60% of applications for legal aid in civil cases come from women, with a higher proportion in education and family law cases. Legal aid has been cut for these areas as well as welfare benefits, immigration, medical negligence, employment, debt and housing. There is stricter eligibility criteria governing who qualifies and the amounts professionals can be paid. The authors believe these changes may lead to: reduced

7 availability of advice; some women being denied a fair trial; and some being forced to remain in violent relationships. The authors report that voluntary organisations in Coventry are finding it increasingly difficult to make up for lost grants through donations from private foundations and individuals, at a time when demand for their services is increasing. Layers of Inequality, a human rights and equality impact assessment of the impact of public spending cuts on black and minority ethnic women in Coventry In its report on the impact of the cuts on black and ethnic minority women in Coventry, the University of Warwick points out that benefit cuts will cost local residents 112m a year. Cuts in government grants to the council mean that spending per person will fall from 929 per person in 2010/11 to 717 in 2015/16. They found that black and ethnic minority women in Coventry are more likely to be living in poverty; reliant on working age benefits; and working for the public sector. They faced higher rates of unemployment, joblessness among BAME women in Coventry rose by 74% from , compared to 30% for white British women; they experience poorer health; and found it more difficult to access work due to racist and sexist attitudes. An increasing expectation, that job and benefit applications are made online further disadvantages women without access to technology. The report concludes that cuts to public spending added to multiple layers of inequality. The authors were concerned that the introduction of Universal Credit, involving a single payment to one person in the household, will make it more difficult for women to budget and reduce their financial independence. Cuts to legal aid for ESA tribunals meant that women, particularly those facing language barriers, would lose out. Many of the women interviewed perceived that the increasing scarcity of resources was leading to rising racial tensions. Getting Off Lightly or Feeling the Pinch? A human rights and equality impact assessment of the impact of public spending cuts on older women in Coventry The report on the impact of cuts on older women in Coventry found that, while the government pledged to increase NHS spending by 12.5bn over the course of this parliament, it has to make 20bn in efficiency savings. Nearly half of all NHS spending goes on older people. In Coventry this meant 28m cuts to local hospitals in with a reduction in hospital beds which has led to reported increases in waiting times and delayed hospital discharges. Cuts in social service budgets meant that Coventry City Council provided five and a half thousand fewer weeks of care in than the previous year, placing a greater burden on unpaid carers, who are predominantly women. The West Midlands transport budget was cut by 6.6m between 2011 and 2013, more than 10% of the total. Coventry s Ring and Ride service has had to introduce fares leading to a 15% drop in users. The report points out that over 70% of women over 60 and more than 80% of women over 75 in Coventry have no access to a car.

8 The report points out that women in their 50 s and 60 s may be affected by public sector job losses and changes to working-age benefits. Women pensioners would see their incomes diminish over time as annual increases are now linked to the Consumer Price Index, which is 1-2% lower than the previously used Retail Price Index. The authors argue that cuts to voluntary services will lead to increased loneliness, and reduced access to welfare advice. Civil society will find it increasingly difficult to monitor the impact of future cuts. In all three reports the authors called on public bodies to take their legal duties to uphold equality and protect human rights seriously by recording and analysing data on service use by equality group and publishing it in accessible formats. They should co-ordinate their policies and practices where multiple impacts are likely. Others can play a vital role in monitoring, campaigning and bringing cases to court. Women at the Cutting Edge, Why public sector spending cuts are a gender equality issue in Liverpool A study by John Moore s University on the impact of public spending cuts on women in Liverpool, already the most deprived local authority area in England, found that it ranked second highest in terms of spending cuts imposed, was lost per person from The report focuses on women experiencing gender violence, mental health needs and asylum seekers and refugees, three groups among the most vulnerable. The report acknowledges that while Liverpool Council has undertaken equality impact assessments and tried to adhere to the principle of proportionate universalism, ensuring the scale and intensity of impacts reflects the level of disadvantage, the authors raise concerns about cuts to the Independent Domestic Advisor service at a time when the number of domestic abuse incidents reported to the police is rising. There are longer waits for Freedom Programmes, which support women living in, or escaping violent relationships, leading to concerns that more women may be at risk of losing their children. Cuts mean that less preventative work can take place. One voluntary organisation told the authors it had to abandon its awareness raising work with young people in schools due to the cuts. The pressure on finances may lead to increased support for general services, rather than specialist provision aimed at specific communities. There is concern that organisations providing generic support may lack local knowledge and roots in the community. Non statutory funders often look for novel and innovative approaches, forcing providers to implement approaches which have not been properly tested. The introduction of charges for mental health services like day provision was causing women to drop out. Increased support from commissioners in individualised care within mixed sex provision meant that women lack access to safe spaces and the gender-specific support they need. Interventions based on a peer support model are thought by some to place too much pressure on women s time when they are

9 already over-burdened with caring responsibilities. Delays to benefits, the higher cost of food and more expensive school uniforms cause stress and anxiety and forcing more women to turn to food banks. The report calls on the government to evaluate the impact of spending cuts on gender, disaggregate the findings by geographical area and target spending to meet need. Local authorities need to understand the difference between formal equality, treating everyone the same, and substantive equality, ensuring different needs are met. Needs analyses and impact assessments need to take account of on-the-ground data and not solely rely on official statistics such as police-reported crimes. The authors call for a renewed commitment to women-only services and a recognition that cuts in one area may lead to the need for increased spending elsewhere. They call on Police and Crime Commissioners to work with local women s groups to prioritise women s safety and fund projects that support female victims. Comment Taken together these reports start to paint a picture of the main ways in which public spending cuts have impacted women s lives, although more could be done, especially by central government to bring this disparate information together and develop a cohesive picture to inform future spending and service priorities. Of particular interest is the need to ensure the cumulative impact of multiple service cuts is measured. Local authorities need to think about how they will undertake cross-cutting Equality Impact Assessments, rather than completing them service by service. The Proportionate Universalism approach may be a useful model in ensuring cuts do not fall too heavily on the most disadvantaged and that any investment is aimed at benefiting them over better off communities. The TUC has produced a toolkit to help public bodies assess the impact of spending cuts on gender. Measuring the impact of spending cuts on women and other protected groups is only the start. Councils should consider developing their own Plan F s to ensure that women s position is not only maintained, but that they share the benefits of new investment and economic recovery. Related briefings Record numbers of people are playing sport, can local authorities meet demand? Achieving gender equality in local government

10 Civil society, fairness commissions and poverty reduction POLICY BRIEFING For more information about this, or any other LGiU member briefing, please contact Janet Sillett, Briefings Manager, on

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