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The latest Spring Budget, presented by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, claims to get “back to work,” but at a closer glance, its implications for UK women are mixed. Amidst incentives for some, there’s a troubling forecast for low-income individuals—predominantly women—facing tighter work eligibility and sanctions. Meanwhile, wealthier counterparts (mostly men) receive pension wealth tax relief.

The Good…

📚 Education: The spotlight on early years education and childcare is a commendable move, signalling a recognition of its vital role as social infrastructure. The extension of childcare support to younger children is particularly laudable, as it aims to alleviate the financial and logistical burdens faced by mothers eager to thrive in their careers. This could mark a significant step towards enabling more women to re-enter or stay in the workforce.

💷 Universal Credit Adjustments: Reforms to the childcare element under Universal Credit, transitioning to advance payments, offer a beacon of hope for lower-income families. This adjustment is poised to reduce the upfront financial barriers to accessing childcare, a pivotal factor in supporting women’s participation in the labor market.

The bad…

👩👧 Insufficient Funding for Childcare: Despite promising initiatives, the budget falls short in adequately funding childcare services. With a projected £5.2bn shortfall by 2025/26, according to the Women’s Budget Group, the risk to the sustainability of childcare providers could undermine the quality of childcare and education, impacting children and working mothers across the UK.

📁 The Burden of Increased Sanctions: The introduction of stricter work eligibility criteria and sanctions particularly targets low-income individuals, disproportionately affecting women and single parents. Such measures risk exacerbating poverty among vulnerable groups, undermining efforts to support women’s economic empowerment and equitable participation in the labour market.

The Ugly…

🤬 Overlooking the Care Crisis: The budget’s lack of focus on the broader spectrum of care responsibilities—such as caring for the elderly or disabled—overlooks a critical barrier to women’s labor market participation. Women are often the primary caregivers in families, and without adequate support, they face significant challenges in balancing care duties with professional aspirations. In 2019, 58% of unpaid carers were women, according to the Office for National Statistics, highlighting the gendered nature of care.

❤️🩹 Neglecting Gender-Specific Health Funding: The absence of targeted funding for women’s health and social care services, including mental health and reproductive health care, is a glaring omission. Women’s health issues have historically been underfunded, affecting their well-being and economic participation. For example, endometriosis, affecting 1 in 10 women, costs the UK economy an estimated £8.2bn a year in treatment, loss of work, and healthcare expenses, according to Endometriosis UK.

📉 Gender Pay Gap Persistence: The budget fails to address the persistent gender pay gap directly. A recent report from PwC showed that Britain fell from 13th to 17th in the OECD’s Women in Work Index, the largest fall of all countries. it’s clear we need urgent action to reverse this trend. Recent research by Pregnant Then Screwed found that mothers get paid £4.44 per hour less than fathers. The gap had grown by almost £1 per hour in 3 years! This signals ongoing inequality in earnings between men and women. Without concrete measures to address this gap, women’s economic independence and equality remain elusive.

As we move forward, it’s imperative to consider the multifaceted barriers women face and to craft policies that not only support women’s entry into the workforce but also ensure their sustained and equitable participation.

Thinking about returning to work?

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