What SWBG would like to see in the Autumn Statement
In times of insecurity and increasing levels of poverty and destitution (JRF 2023), comments about what may be included in the Chancellor’s statement leave little room to aspire to (Binns, 2023). While many issues remain devolved, public spending and tax issues as well as block grants, have a great impact on Scotland. This blog will detail what we’d like to see in the upcoming statement, especially in relation to advancing gender equality across the UK.
Social benefits are highly important to supplement women’s incomes, especially in households where the woman is the sole earner (Women’s Budget Group, 2022). As a result of rising costs, those on benefits have seen their incomes eroded. The cost of food is estimated by the ONS to be 30% higher in October 2023 than it was in October 2021; and while the headline rate of inflation may have dropped in October to 4.6%, the price of essential goods is not reducing (ONS, 2023). This is why, along with many other third sector organisations, we believe that the Chancellor must use this statement to increase all welfare payments in line with the September CPI inflation figure. Otherwise, those who rely on social security will be facing a further real terms cut in their income.
Current rates for Universal Credit mean that those who rely on this are living in poverty, unable to afford essential household costs and leaving people choosing between eating and heating. Our recent survey with Making Rights Real and Fa‘side Women and Girls Group found that 66% of those on Universal Credit struggled to manage food costs and 79% struggle with heating costs (2023) This is why we are backing the Essentials Guarantee campaign by the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation which calls for a basic minimum floor of at least £120 for a single adult and £200 for a couple (Trussell Trust & JRF, 2023).
To achieve a ‘caring social security system’, we also call for:
- Removal of the benefit cap along with other measures such as the two-child limit and young parent penalty due to their adverse impact on women and poverty rates more broadly.
- Reverse the conditionality requirements for parents on Universal Credit. This would have a positive impact on single mothers who are already experiencing increasing insecurity as a result of a lack of affordable/accessible childcare and flexible employment (Gingerbread 2023; SWBG 2023);
- Review thresholds for means tested benefits such as Pension Credit;
- Invest in a comprehensive programme of benefits take up;
- Increase the level of financial support for asylum seekers, people with no recourse to public funds and people when gaining refugee status.
- Unfreeze the Local Housing Allowance and increase housing benefit rates, which is contributing to a record number of people living in temporary accommodation across the UK and is resulting in increased spending on costly temporary accommodation (Gecsoyler 2023; Gecsoyler 2023).
Taxation and Public Services
The UK Government has a duty to show they are using the maximum available resources to ensure that the rights of those in the UK, such as the ‘right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family' (United Nations, 2023), are not regressing. Given the numbers who are struggling to manage essential household costs we do not believe now is the time for the possible tax cuts being trailed in the press (Savage and King, 2023).
Alongside our sisters at the Women’s Budget Group, we call for the reform of the current tax system. Women are more likely to have lower levels of wealth due to caring responsibilities and rely more often on public services. With rising costs and cuts to these essential services, tax can provide a means to fund critical social infrastructure, improving women’s living standards. Find out more in the Women’s Budget Group Pre-Budget Briefing on Taxation and Gender: Autumn Statement 2023: Taxation and Gender - Womens Budget Group (wbg.org.uk)
Investment is needed in public services such as the NHS, social care and childcare services if the UK economy is going to grow. Tax cuts will only starve essential public services of much needed cash and will severely limit the government's ability to tackle NHS waiting times or to deliver on its childcare targets. All of which will negatively impact on the government's ability to grow the numbers of those in employment and ultimately, on the government’s ability to grow the economy.
We need to strengthen basic universal services via funding from tax reform. This is key to ensure that this decade of austerity doesn’t persist, damaging more livelihoods and further entrenching pre-existing structural inequalities like gender inequality.
Engage with us!
Heather, our Training Lead, will be on BBC Scotland tomorrow at 2:15pm. Tune in and hear SWBG’s response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.
If you’d like to find out more about what the UK Government’s Autumn Budget Statement will mean for Scotland, and what we think the Scottish Government should address ahead of the upcoming Scottish Budget, sign up to our event here: The UK Autumn Budget - Potential opportunities & implications for Scotland Tickets, Wed 29 Nov 2023 at 14:00 | Eventbrite
Binns, K (2023) ‘What to expect from the Autumn Statement 2023’. Last accessed 20/11/23: What to expect from the Autumn Statement 2023 - Times Money Mentor (thetimes.co.uk)
Gecsoyler (2023) ‘”Morale is very low”: evicted tenant’s three months and counting in a London Travelodge’. Last accessed 21/11/23: ‘Morale is very low’: evicted tenant’s three months and counting in a London Travelodge | Homelessness | The Guardian
Gecsoyler (2023) ‘Number of households in temporary accommodation in England at highest level’. Last accessed 21/11/23: Number of households in temporary accommodation in England at highest level | Housing | The Guardian
Gingerbread (2023) ‘Changes to Universal Credit conditionality: Gingerbread’s response’. Last accessed 20/11/23: Changes to Universal Credit conditionality: Gingerbread's response | Gingerbread
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2023) Destitution in the UK 2023. Last accessed 21/11/23: Destitution in the UK 2023 | JRF
Office for National Statistics (2023) ‘Cost of living insights: Food’. Last accessed 21/11/23: Cost of living insights - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
Savage, M. & King, S (2023) ‘Millions of UK families using credit cards and loans to pay basic bills’. Last accessed 21/11/23: Millions of UK families using credit cards and loans to pay basic bills | Poverty | The Guardian
Scottish Women’s Budget Group (2023) Women’s Survey 2023: Experiences of rising costs across Scotland. Last accessed 20/11/23: SWBG-Cost-of-Living-report-proof-06.pdf
Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2023) ‘Guarantee our Essentials: reforming Universal Credit to ensure we can all afford the essentials in hard times’. Last accessed 21/11/23: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/guarantee-our-essentials
United Nations (2023) ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Last accessed 20/11/23: Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations
Women’s Budget Group (2022) Who loses from benefit uprating changes? A gendered analysis. Last accessed 20/11/23: Benefit-uprate-briefing.pdf (wbg.org.uk)
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