UK coalition government sued over emergency budget's effects on women

[JURIST] A UK-based women's rights group filed suit [press release] Friday against the new coalition government over its 2010 budget, claiming the drastic spending cuts in it will have a disproportionately negative impact on women. The accusation stems from a gender impact study [press release] commissioned by Labour Party MP and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Yvette Cooper [official website] and conducted by the House of Commons Library [official website], which found [statistics spreadsheet] that 72 percent of the £10.5 billion in budget cuts would be shouldered by women. The cuts, part of an austerity movement ushered in by the new conservative-controlled coalition government under Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne [Guardian backgrounder], include reductions in maternity grants and assistance, child tax credits, housing benefits and freezes on pension and public sector salaries. The study found that women are much more likely to occupy the low-level public positions most likely to be hit by pay freezes and, as a group, rely far more on assistance provided by the numerous childcare and maternity-related expenditures slashed in the budget than men. The Fawcett Society [advocacy website] brought the action in the England and Wales High Court [official website], seeking a judicial review of the budget, which Fawcett Society Solicitor Samantha Mangwana says should have been reviewed for gender impact prior to passage pursuant to the gender equality duty [WNC backgrounder]:

Although public authorities have been subject to the gender equality duty for several 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 in spelling this out. Firstly, an equality impact assessment must be conducted before policy decisions are taken. Secondly, where an assessment reveals a risk of discrimination, urgent action must be taken.
The budget could be declared unlawful if the High Court finds it was passed in violation of the gender equality duty. Fawcett Society Executive Director Ceri Goddard said that legal action was necessary due to the "blatant unfairness and sheer scale of impact" of the budget, which she said shows a "whole new level of disregard" for women's equality. The organization is calling on the coalition government to revisit the budget and conduct departmental gender impact analyses to find ways to mitigate any unequal impact.

Since it took effect in April 2007, the gender equality duty has required all public authorities in England, Scotland and Wales to reduce gender inequality in exercising their authority as dictated by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2006 [materials, PDF]. The 2010 UK budget [materials] was released on June 22 and has received criticism for slashing government services and hiking the value-added tax (VAT) to 20 percent [BBC report] while reducing taxes on corporations [BBC reports].

 

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