Today the Scottish Budget will go through stage 3 and, barring the unexpected, will pass into law.
The budget is one of the most significant pieces of legislation the Government passes each year. It provides funds to policy initiatives and political commitments. As we live through the Covid pandemic and its economic consequences it also sets the tone for recovery. Decisions within the budget affect all our lives, everyday.
These decisions can have profound effects. From austerity measures brought in by Westminster in response to the 2008 financial crash, which evidence shows has most significantly affected women on lower incomes, to construction investment which focuses job creation in male-dominated sectors. Budget decisions make real Government priorities and for too long these have not taken into account the different economic realities of women and men.
The budget represents investment in what we value through our economy, and in turn what can be seen as valued in society. Whose work we value. The value placed on paid and unpaid work. The value placed on equality and fairness.
Important additional announcements in the lead up to today’s vote demonstrate how public money can be used to tackle inequalities, from the introduction of free school meals to all primary aged children to free bus travel for all under-22s. But this budget is taking place in extraordinary times and calls for extraordinary measures and there is an opportunity to use the recovery process to tackle structural inequalities in our society.
What’s been disappointing in both the Scottish and UK Budgets has been the lack of ambition in putting care at the forefront of recovery planning. Instead there’s been a focus on ‘hard hat’ projects for major investment. The Scottish Budget has allocated £6billion to capital investment projects with a focus on physical infrastructure. Thankfully there is recognition for this capital investment to look towards our next great challenge, that of tackling climate change. But there’s been no investment approaching this scale of ambition for our social infrastructure, such as care services. Without money to back the warm words to carers, the danger is that value in our care sector is only recognised by clapping with our neighbours.
There is still opportunity for Scotland to build a more ambitious recovery, with more funds coming to Scotland through Barnett consequentials as a result of last week’s UK Budget. This is an opportunity to start investing in a green, care led recovery.
Core to tackling climate destruction is valuing life-sustaining livelihoods, including the care economy. This means a new deal for care workers whether in social care, unpaid care, childcare, teaching, or health care. These are low carbon jobs that have positive multiplier effects when accompanied with sufficient investment. They are also roles that are disproportionately carried out by women, showing that a green and just stimulus centred on care can be a strong lever for tackling inequality.
This is a challenge not only for the current budget but also as political parties in Scotland prepare their manifestos for the forthcoming election.
It’s a challenge the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and our members will be raising and it’s an opportunity for political commitment to build ambition for a transformative recovery, that builds a green, caring economy.
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