Chancellor must ensure his budgets don't discriminate

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The Chancellor has no excuse not to do an equality assessment on his budget, says Kimberly McIntosh

The wealth gap between rich and poor is larger than ever. 42 people have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. That’s equivalent to 3.7 billion people.

In a survey by Oxfam, 72% of people said they want the UK government to urgently address the income inequality. But austerity policies are actively widening this already existing gap between rich and poor – hitting BME women on low incomes the hardest.

Carrying out a comprehensive equality impact assessment on the Budget would go some way to stopping this.

This week the Treasury Select Committee advised that, going forward, the Treasury should publish equalities impact assessments on the Budget.

This means that the Treasury should look at how their proposed changes to the tax and benefit system, outlined in each Budget, will impact people with 'protected characteristics' (groups covered by equality laws) and households with high and low incomes.

This is welcome news. Our report with the Women’s Budget Group, 'Intersecting Inequalities: BME women and Austerity' made the same suggestion.

Our analysis found that successive Budget’s since 2010 had affected the poorest black and Asian families the most. Without policy change, they will suffer a massive 20% drop in living standards by 2020. This is the same as losing between £8,407 and £11,678 per year.

Single mothers across all income levels and working families with children also lose out. The benefit freeze - slimming down of working-age benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit - and the roll-out of Universal Credit has contributed to this drop in living standards. Meanwhile, the wealthiest White men have lost just 1% of their annual income.

Women are losing more than men, and BME households are losing more than white households. If the Chancellor had done a cumulative equality impact assessment of all of these policies, and separate assessments of individual policies, these impacts would have been clear.

The urgent need for equality impact assessments did not go unnoticed. 126 Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green MPs signed a letter calling for an assessment of all policies.

The Treasury argued that there was not enough data available for an intersectional analysis, as they can only guess how couples share income within the households between couples.

The Select Committee has said this is not an excuse. They have suggested the Treasury work to fill any data gaps, or find workarounds as they have managed to do when assessing the impact of policies that disproportionally impact men. We wait eagerly to hear the Treasury’s response and hope to see all policies and future Budget’s subject to robust equality impact assessments. 

Kimberly McIntosh is policy officer for the Runnymede Trust. She tweets at @mcintosh_kim

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