The election of the Coalition government in 2010 led to a significant change in WBG’s relationship with government. In this new era, the Women’s Budget Group lost its ‘insider’ status, with new ministers choosing not to continue the meetings that had taken place under the Labour government. The Women’s Budget Group was not alone in this regard. The Coalition government also disbanded the Women’s National Commission.
The Coalition’s austerity policies led to cuts to social security benefits, tax credits and public services, all of which have had a disproportionate impact on women (see Case study 4: Cumulative Impact Analysis). The Treasury has failed to publish meaningful analysis of the gender impact of its policies.
Since 2010 analysing the gender impact of austerity has been central to WBG’s work. We have produced reports, briefings and responses to government consultations. This work has been used by other civil society organisations in their campaigning and advocacy.
WBG provided evidence to support the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading organisation campaigning for gender equality, in a Judicial Review of the Emergency Budget. They effectively wanted to sue the government. The Judicial Review sought to challenge the validity of the Budget by arguing that the government had failed to give due consideration to equalities impacts, as required under the 2010 Equality Act. The Women’s Budget Group provided evidence of how to undertake such an assessment and what it would show.
Although the Judicial Review was unsuccessful it led to the establishment of a working group by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to improve the quality of equality impact assessment by government. This Fair Financial Decision-making Working Group
was made up of academics, Treasury officials, and a Women’s Budget Group representative.
This new context led to a change in approach for WBG. Increasingly, the focus shifted to external advocacy through the media and other non-governmental organisations. WBG still shares its analysis of the budget and other economic policies with government, but now works more closely with backbench MPs and members of parliamentary select committees. The group has been asked to provide evidence and briefings to opposition parties. WBG has moved from a partial ‘insider’ strategy to holding the government to account through parliament and the media.
Our experience shows that it is easier for organisations such as WBG to bring about changes if they are in line with government policy. If the government does not reverse the policy of cuts to funding of public services, despite evidence of the harmful impacts on women, especially those most disadvantaged, it is necessary to take a long-term view, and work with other organisations to try to ensure that opposition parties, which might in future form a government, will prioritise increased spending on services that are so important for gender equality.