Research shows women will shoulder three quarters of the pain inflicted by spending cuts in the June budget. This has prompted the Fawcett Society, the UK's leading women's rights group, to brand the cuts "unlawful".
The Society believes the cuts "risk rolling back women's equality in the UK by a generation". They have now launched a bid for judicial review in the high court to determine whether or not the government carried out a proper "gender equality assessment".
Their solicitor, Samantha Mangwana, explains:
"Although public authorities have been subject to the gender equality duty for three years now, there is widespread ignorance not only about how strong these laws actually are, but also what specific steps are required to be undertaken. However, the case law is crystal clear. Firstly, an equality impact assessment must be conducted before policy decisions are taken.
"Secondly, this is not a box-ticking exercise. The impact assessment must be a rigorous analysis. Similarly, there should also be written evidence of it, since otherwise it suggests that the discriminatory impact was not properly examined."
She adds that if the assessment returns evidence of discriminatory impact the government has a duty to take "urgent action" to mitigate its effects.
Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, believes the government should also make the results of any impact assessment public. "There is a point of principle here. The question is - had the government followed the proper process, would parliament have voted for the budget? If they had known that 72% of the cuts would be borne by women, would they have voted for the budget?"
Research from the House of Commons library shows that of the £8bn annual spending cuts, almost £6bn will come from women, compared with just £2bn from men. The cuts will hit women in "low-paid public sector jobs" hardest. The research also shows that cuts in benefits and tax credits will disproportionately affect women much harder than men.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission says it will monitor the Fawcett Society's legal bid closely. It is also weighing up whether to exercise its statutory power to take legal action against the government. "We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible."
In a new twist, the Guardian reports that Theresa May wrote to George Osborne and David Cameron less than two weeks before the budget to warn them "there is a real risk of successful legal challenge" against the cuts under UK equality legislation.
- Coalition budget faces legal challenge from Fawcett Society over claims women will bear brunt of cuts (Guardian)
- Budget cuts could break equality laws, Theresa May warned chancellor (Guardian)
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