So George Osborne has now delivered his so-called ‘pro-growth budget’. With a surprise cut to fuel duty among his big proposals, The Guardian can be forgiven for calling this budget ‘unashamedly populist’. The Chancellor, it seems, is clutching at straws. What’s more, he is still refusing to address, or even acknowledge, the huge problem of how his cuts will affect women’s role in the workplace.
Yesterday Kitty Ussher, Director of the think-tank Demos, posted an insightful blog on the “Next Left” site reminding us all of just some of the long-term impacts of Osborne’s cuts. She also suggested a few ways in which Osborne’s budget could have been amended (if only he would listen) to make it better for women.
To recap, local councils are expected to lose a total of £7 billion from their budget by the end of the spending round. This means public sector job cuts. Employment patterns in the UK, like elsewhere in Europe, are characterised by the following: gender segregated labour markets; gender gaps in pay; higher levels of part-time and precarious work among women; and a higher concentration of women in the so-called ‘informal sector’. What this means is that women are in a far more vulnerable position than men in the face of severe cuts.
Reductions in public spending for after-school clubs, leisure centres, and nurseries also have a gendered impact – they result in the transfer of services such as childcare back to women, who are the primary care givers in the home. This limits their capacity to participate in society beyond the domestic sphere.
The outlook for women looks bleak to say the least. Yet the question is, what could Osborne have done differently? Kitty Ussher suggests, for one, that local councils should have more time to discuss flexible working hours for all their employees, rather than simply cutting jobs with impunity. This might not solve the problem, but it would certainly help. The fact is that unless Osborne comes up with proposals soon to mitigate the damaging impact of his cuts, women’s place in the labour market will become even more uncertain.