GEORGE Osborne was surrounded by women when he was delivering his budget speech, but we can’t have been much on his mind when he was developing its contents.

The relatively paltry living wage that provided the flashy dismount of his speech isn’t enough to offset the drastic cuts to social security that preceded it. Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reform” project has already impoverished and immiserated women at a faster clip than men, and this latest round of state-sponsored opprobrium for those who lack the good sense to be privileged and lucky is set to do the same.

The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee reported this week on the devastating effects of slashed social security budgets on women. The Committee’s finding that the “cumulative impact of the reforms has had a damaging and disproportionate impact on women” drew dissent only from Annabel Goldie. The statistics are horrifying. Over 85 per cent of the cuts made so far, to benefits, wages, services, and pensions, have come from the pockets of women.

Yesterday’s Budget compounds the misery for the women whose lives are lived in the shadow of “all in this together”. It was a curiously gender-blind effort from a Government that has been relentlessly criticised for codifying indifference to women’s unpaid care work and economic equality within its fiscal policy. There were only two brief mentions of women at all: a throwaway and misleading piece of self-congratulation on the slightly narrowing gender pay gap (which is down to men’s stagnating wages), and a commitment to fund women’s refuge places.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is to be published tomorrow, and we will join other women’s organisations poring over its detail. The headlines bring terrible, if well-trailed, news. Women who are the second breadwinner in their families may find that the changes to the Universal Credit taper means that it makes less sense for them to work. This is likely if, like many women, they are juggling a series of low-paid jobs.

Those people whom even the discredited ATOS has determined too sick to work will see their weekly income fall by £30. A functional two-child policy has been introduced for families in receipt of tax credits and Universal Credit. Although there are planned exemptions for multiple births, and a somewhat grotesque exemption for third children conceived as a result of rape, this will hit single parents hardest. Single parents, 95 per cent of whom are mothers, will be forced into paid work when their children are three, regardless of the fact that childcare provision isn’t currently sufficient to enable them to work full-time. Young people whose family home is not safe or secure will be kept in it by the removal of housing benefit and JSA for 18 to 21-year-olds.

Women didn’t enjoy economic equality before the social security system was assailed by deficit fetishism. The cynical programme of “welfare reform” has demanded more unpaid work from women in the form of care, in managing shrinking budgets and household resources, in being the buffer between their children and hunger, and at the same time has denied its very worth.

Our vision for Scotland is a positive one in which men and women have equal access to power, resources, and safety. This Budget takes us away from that vision and sees women’s autonomy eroded by an ideological project that doesn’t centre our concerns, our voices, or our lives.


George Kerevan: A merciless attacks on the poor ... to the sound of cheers

John Swinney: The National Living Wage hides an attack on people in low-wage jobs

Foodbanks: ‘Economic security’ is an alien concept to many of those who use our services

Inheritance tax: Making a system more complicated when it needs simplicity

Disability: Why we are sceptical about Osborne's promise

Unemployment: The National Living Wage is a slightly less low minimum wage

Child poverty: Child poverty ... Measures will do precious little for the poorest families in Scotland

Housing: Pushing those already suffering further into poverty