Women’s group mounts legal challenge to emergency Budget

The Fawcett Society – a campaign group fighting for equality between men and women – has launched a legal bid to overturn the measures outlined in the emergency Budget because it claims they target women unfairly.

The Fawcett Society – a campaign group fighting for equality between men and women – has launched a legal bid to overturn the measures outlined in the emergency Budget because it claims they target women unfairly.
The organisation has now filed legal papers with the High Court to seek a judicial review of the coalition government’s emergency Budget held on June 22nd.
The society claims the Government failed to make a thorough assessment of the Budget’s likely impact under equality laws.
The Budget measures show 72% of the cuts will come from women’s income compared to 28% from men’s, says the Fawcett Society.
This is because many of the cuts are to the benefits that more women than men rely on, and the changes to the tax system will benefit far more men than women.
Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: ”Successive governments have failed to give enough consideration to how their policies will impact on equality between men and women, but this Budget shows a while new level of disregard for the importance of equality law and everyday women’s lives.
”The blatant unfairness and the sheer scale of the impact this Budget could have on women have left us little choice but to resort to the courts for action.
”In times of economic crisis it becomes more not less important to consider women’s basic rights, and observe the laws put there to safeguard them.  We know action is needed to cut the deficit but such critical decisions – especially such eye-watering cuts to public spending – should not have been made without considering the impact of women.”
Among the measures in Chanellor George Osborne’s ‘tough but fair’ Budget:
* Child benefit has been frozen for three years
* Sure Start maternity grant will now only be available for the first child from April 2011
* Health in Pregnancy grant has been scrapped.
* Lone parents are expected to return to work once their youngest child has started school -previously it was the age of 10.
The TUC claimed ‘poor mothers’ were among the biggest losers in the Budget and had suffered an estimated loss of £1,200.
The Fawcett Society’s solicitor, Samantha Mangwana, of Russell Jones & Walker solicitors, said: ”Although public authorities have been subject to the gender equality duty for several years now, there is widespread ignorance not only about how strong these laws actually are, but also what specific steps are required to be undertaken.  However, the case law is crystal clear in spelling this out.  Firstly, an equality impact assessment must be conducted before policy decisions are taken.
”Secondly, where an assessment reveals a risk of discrimination, urgent action must be taken to address those risks.  Clearly, if the equality impact is not even assessed as a starting point, a public authority cannot start to consider what steps to take to mitigate any inequality.”
The Fawcett Society was originally set up in 1866 by Millicent Fawcett to fight for votes for women. 
The group claims the Government failed to assess the way in which the Budget would impact differently on men and women and has failed to meet the requirements of the Gender Equality Duty, under sections 76A and 76B of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Ms Goddard said: ”It’s ironic that a Budget that in many other ways was the most transparent for decades seems to have failed to consider and publish its impact on half the population.  We are sure that many MPs would think twice about these measures had they realised the basic questions hadn’t been looked at.
”Women already earn less, own less, and have less control over their finances than men.  Yet some £5.8 billion of the £8billion of cuts contained in the Budget will be taken from women, who will also be worst affected by the coming cuts to public services – 65% of public sector workers are women.
”We are calling on the Government to look again at the Budget, and to ensure that all government departments undertake a robust and transparent gender equality impact assessment of proposals being discussed in the current spending review before final decisions are made.  If they believe women should bear a greater burden of cutting the deficit they should come out and say so.”

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