Thoughtful comment on gender and politics

When the numbers don’t stack up: checking up on the Chancellor

I’ve spent the last two weeks at work immersed in the Budget and the start of the new tax year, firing off press releases and answering calls to journalists. It’s only now, contentedly full of Easter eggs, that I’ve had time to reflect on all the economic changes, and assess whether the numbers stack up.

Firstly, I’d like to say that dubbing the Budget, ‘a Budget for working families’ was a devious move by Mr Osborne, because this of course was not a Budget for working families. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the Chancellor disposing ‘of the difficult bit in the title’, and he seems to be becoming rather practiced at this particular political dark art. No, lowering the 50p tax rate did not benefit the average low to middle income family, which gets by on just over £20k a year. Nor did increasing the personal tax allowance to £8,105 make up for the £545 many working families will lose in child tax credit this year. The 212,000 families earning less that than £17k a year who have just lost about 20% of their income because the rules around working tax credit have changed will wonder what planet the Chancellor was on when he decided to wrap the Budget in rhetoric about hardworking people on low and middle incomes.

I try with my writing to bring some feminist perspective to current affairs and while the Chancellor’s efforts were cynical to say the least, they also have a disproportionate effect on women. The coalition’s treatment of women has not won them any votes; since polls showed women deserting the Tories Cameron’s tried various tactics to woo the fairer sex. However, the Budget was not one such attempt. In fact, some remarkable data published by the  Guardian shows that of the £14.9 billion the Chancellor hopes to raise by 2014/2015, £11.1 billion will come from women. This is largely due to the changes in tax credits (those listed above as well as others), public sector pay freezes (more women work in the public sector) and the household benefit cap. The numbers make for interesting reading.

However, perhaps the most depressing part of recent economic history is not the poor decision-making of politicians, but that the media storm that followed focussed on the introduction of VAT to hot pasties and sausage rolls. The Guardian had no less than 8 ‘pastygate’ headlines. I appreciate that for Cornwall, and those at Greggs HQ this is indeed big news, but the £10 billion worth of unspecified welfare cuts announced should surely generate more column inches than pastries and pies?

So, the question is not whether the numbers add up, but who they add up for. Men and high earners are the winners, women and pasty bakers are the losers… at last we know our real place.

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