SWBG Budget Response - Emergency Budget Review 2022
Written by Sara Cowan, Coordinator and Yve Barry, Engagement Officer at Scottish Women's Budget Group
Last week the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, published the Emergency Budget Review (EBR). This has been delayed due to the upheaval of the UK ‘mini-budget’, its reaction in the markets, and the new Prime Minister announcing that the UK Fiscal Statement will be moved to the 17th November to become the Autumn Statement. Due to inflation, it was noted by the Deputy First Minister that in total the annual budget is worth £1.7 billion less than the budget published in December 2021. The EBR only notes changes for the current financial year of 2022-23. You can read more about the Emergency Budget Review 2022 here: Emergency Budget Review 2022 – inflation implications laid bare – SPICe Spotlight | Solas air SPICe (spice-spotlight.scot).
We’ve been analysing what the emergency budget review might mean for women, particularly those at the sharpest end of the cost-of-living crisis. Here’s some reflections on the announcements.
There was an emphasis on the disproportionate impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on low-income households, which we know women make up a large proportion of (Women's Budget Group 2018). The big announcement to double the Scottish Child Bridging payment, had been made earlier in October and, is a welcome part of the EBR. Other support targeting those on low incomes included further support for the fuel security fund and increasing funding to local authorities for additional Discretionary Housing Payment support. The Scottish Government has shown an important commitment to putting more cash in people’s pockets. When it comes to the Budget for next year, we’ll be looking for this to be continued by uprating Scottish benefits in line with inflation.
Another clear element of prioritisation was enhancing pay awards for public sector workers, which is encouraging as women make up a large proportion of this workforce. People need to be paid enough to live a decent and dignified life; this needs to be part of the provision of quality public services and must be continued in the Budget for next year.
However, £615 million in savings set out in the EBR will be felt, the key question for government is who feels the impact greatest and how can inequalities continue to be challenged. It is always a concern when cuts are made to public services as women have a greater reliance on these services and will be impacted hardest, further entrenching structural inequalities. The reprioritisation of the Health & Social Care portfolio is to improve the pay deals of health care staff. Whilst improved pay deals that focus the largest pay rises on the lowest paid workers is vital, it is concerning how these public service cuts could impact the daily lives of women. For example, mental health funding is to be cut back by £38 million. In our Women’s Survey 2022 that was conducted between February-March this year, participants were already expressing concern over rising costs that could easily spiral into stress and mental health issues. Our recently published research briefing, ‘I don’t live, I survive’, with the Poverty Alliance, reported negative impacts on mental health in all the interviews with some women experiencing depression and anxiety, sleeping more to avoid mealtimes, or sleeping less due to stress. Furthermore, impacts on mental health were reported to be exacerbated by the loneliness of not being able to afford to socialise, for example. These rising costs, which this review aimed to tackle, have deeply embedded intersecting issues such as impacts on mental health.
Spend on social care is another area of concern. The Summary of Evidence on Equality and Fairness notes that all reductions in social care capacity and health care capacity have a disproportionate impact on unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women. People receiving social care support have already experienced a tumultuous two and a half years through the pandemic. This is a budget area that needs significant increase in spending and any move to reprioritise funds from social care needs to be considered for the long-term impacts it could have on those relying on the services. Whilst the budget situation for next financial year is expected to be challenging, social care needs to be prioritised as part of the recovery from Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis.
It will only be a matter of time until we see the impacts of these cuts on people’s lives, and in the meantime, the Scottish Government must monitor these impacts to inform future policy making. However, inflation will continue to pose issues and restraints for budgets. Money that is being “re-profiled” and promised to be spent in future financial years, may have to be curtailed due to these current squeezes from rising inflation (SPICe Spotlight 2022).
Equality considerations in the Emergency Budget Review process
We welcome the publication of the Summary of Evidence on Equality and Fairness as an important recognition of the need for equality evidence to inform decision making across budget portfolios. Processes to bring together this evidence should be at the heart of policy making so that Scotland’s resources are best targeting at building an equal and fair society. More evidence is given for areas of increased budget spend within the EBR, while this is very welcome it is equally as important to provide clear evidence where cuts are faced. The summary of evidence recognises at points that decisions being made have potential to increase inequalities or slow down delivery of work. The longer-term implications of this will depend on Budget decisions for the next financial year. We reiterate our call made with other Women’s Organisations ahead of the EBR underlining the importance of an intersectional budget analysis to allocate spending across portfolios to prevent poverty, destitution and insecurity for women. Read more about this in our letter to John Swinney.
The Scottish Budget is to be published on the 15th of December 2022. We’ll be sharing our thoughts again following the Government announcements as well as hosting a budget watch-along so join our mailing list to stay up to date.
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