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Policing equality

    “Still Unequal” the Spring edition of the Fabian Review declares. The government has got it wrong on gender equality, says Howard Reed, Director of Landman Economics, “single parent households are the worst affected”. “Nothing for Gender Equality in George’s budget” choruses the Women’s Budget Group (supported by the Lipman Miliband Trust) “Yet again Britain’s poorest women lose out.”

    Any hope that the end of the Women’s Unit in Number 10, when Labour and Harriet Harman returned to Opposition, would mean an end to the spurious case for of gender equality or its damaging outcomes was short lived.  Theresa May has committed the Coalition to a Contract for Equalities Manifesto and ‘action to ensure gender equality’, no less. And as soon as the government agreed to a ‘gender impact assessment’ regarding financial policy decisions, which it seemed to believe it had to do under existing equalities legislation, it made itself a hostage to fortune.  It has put the gender equality police back in business - no public sector cut, no welfare reform will escape their scrutiny.

    Though Catherine Hakim pointed out in her recent CPS pamphlet policies intended to promote sex equality have, at best, had little impact, at worst are counter-productive and a waste of public funds, the post feminist world still lies ahead.  The role played by gender politics and ‘values’ in family breakdown has been well documented by the CPS.  The growth of economically unsustainable lone parent households – policies that have driven the transfer of family interdependency – dependency on a family bread-winner - to lone parent dependency on the state, is the most damaging outcome of gender ideology in action.  The battle for equal opportunities won, parity of outcome is the demand. The feminists will not rest until they get any remnant principle of family interdependency (to even equal support for the ‘traditional’ one earner family as a choice through the tax and benefits system) repealed and outlawed. It is these demands, realised in an inequitable tax, credits and benefits system,  that damage women, fail to represented what they want and  have driven family breakup. 

    This was not the agenda for a Women’s Hour discussion  I was invited onto. Responding to the Women’s Budget Group “Nothing for Gender Equality in George’s Budget” press release, Jenni Murray asked, ‘How are government economic policies treating women?  According to Dr. Claire Annersley of the WBG, my co-contributor, women, as a sex, not men, are the greater victims of public sector and welfare cuts and being seriously done down. Why? They benefit least from raising the income tax threshold. Never mind those who benefit through their husband’s or partner’s earning. They suffer most too from ‘harsh cuts to pubic spending’. That men suffered more in the recession did not enter the ball park.   

    Ryan Bourne, the CPS’s research economist, had alerted me beforehand to the warped Landman analysis she quoted.  The big loss shown to single parents (male ones actually do come off worst) is because Howard Reed’s analysis measures cuts to school and higher education funding as reducing the general living standards of single parents as a greater proportion of their smaller income. What’s more, as Ryan said, such thinking falls into the New Labour Fallacy that more spending means better outcomes, which of course we haven’t seen. The fact is that this spending is paid out of general taxation revenues and has no effect on single parent’s incomes or costs. It was a bit complicated to explain neatly in the confines of a Woman’s Hour slot. I needed Ryan there.

    For the second myth she turned her attention to Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit reform, generally agreed to be the most enlightened and progressive policy to emerge from the coalition so far. Even Polly Toynbee, the fiercest of potential critics, agrees that the Universal Credit means that work will always pay and that even if it incurs huge up-front costs, that lone parents, who are mainly women, will be the winners. So it is the best bet on offer to increase the incentive to work in currently workless households.    But that was not enough to save IDS from the gender police’s ire. Showing respect for gender neutrality (quite correctly the UC makes no assumptions about who the couple will chose to be the lead child carer) recognition of the reality of family/parental financial interdependence (the feminists have not yet managed to ban joint bank accounts) the decision has been to pay Universal Credit as a family income to the dual parent household. So what could be wrong with that?  The WGB is quite clear.

    “We believe that individual financial security is a better basis for achieving flourishing relationships, whereas financial dependence can put a strain on them; and that more flexible gender roles are more likely to result in family stability and equality within couples. Yet some proposals in the Bill point instead towards greater economic dependence of one partner on the other, and the reinforcement of a 'male breadwinner' model. In our view, this is not compatible with either the government's duties on equality or its other social goals.”  Welfare Reform Bill: Women’s Budget Group Evidence to Public Bill Committee 22.3.11 (or hyperlink)

    Detention and lines all round.

    This quest for flourishing relationships seemed rather less impressive when Claire Annersley revealed as her main concern, through obtuse argument, that an individual ‘income’ would better set up a woman up for escape from her relationship  - her default assumption being one of partnership break up.  That it is a growth in such partnership break ups that the existing (independently allocated) tax credit system has achieved (cohabiting break ups outstripping marriage break ups) either passed her by or did not bother her. The woman’s right to financial independence for woman, though courtesy of the state, is paramount.

    Don’t imagine other perspectives on fairness and equity got a look into this debate, let alone were acknowledged.  They didn’t. My point that it is hardly fair to make people who decide to work, at marginal tax rates of 96%  fund the welfare payments of those who don’t fell, predictably, on stony ground. 

    Kathy Gyngell has a first class honours degree in social anthropology from Cambridge and an Oxford M.Phil. in sociology. She has worked for the former ITV companies, LWT and TV-am as a producer and senior programme executive. A full time mother after the birth of her second son, she founded the voluntary organization Full Time Mothers.

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