Yesterday, 29 October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond delivered his last budget before the UK leaves the European Union.
There has been much speculation over how the Chancellor would be able to deliver on a number of promises made over the past year. These promises include putting an end to austerity, increased funding to the NHS, as well as freezing the fuel duty despite its £9bn a year cost to the Treasury.
The budget comes one week before an official mission by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Phillip Alston. In this unprecedented visit to the UK, Professor Alston will find a country reeling from the effects of austerity related cuts as well as facing an uncertain future due to the UK leaving the European Union.
In this year’s Conservative Party Conference Speech, Theresa May announced that “the end of austerity is in sight”. However, the Prime Minister did not specify whether the end to austerity would happen in this budget, and she later suggested that it might occur only after the UK leaves the European Union.
Understood as the maintenance of spending per capita in real terms and the offset of social security cuts, putting an end to austerity would cost between £30bn and £31bn by 2022-23 according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been clear that the austerity-led policies implemented in the UK since 2010 are not compatible with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The UK must take steps to the maximum of its available resources to advance in the level of protection and enjoyment of all economic and social rights, including the right to social security. Human rights must be actively considered during the budgeting process.
Recently, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts concluded that the delivery of Universal Credit, the flagship welfare system, is causing “unacceptable hardship”.
Child Poverty Action Group has found that families on benefits now have to live without 40% of the budget that they need for a social accepted minimum standard of living and End Hunger UK has denounced that the roll-out of Universal Credit has led to an increased demand for emergency food aid in the areas that they studied.
The cumulative impact assessment by the Equality and Human Rights Commission of recent tax and welfare reforms found that these changes have disproportionately impacted women, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, and persons with disabilities.
According to Women’s Budget Group, lone mothers with disabilities have lost the most overall due to the cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms. By 2021 lone mothers with disabilities are set to lose 21% of their net income, this rises to 32% if one of their children also has disabilities.
The UK has the responsibility to ensure that all of its decisions and polices are not discriminatory towards any group, and this needs to be reflected in its budgetary decisions.
- The DWP should review the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 to restore the link between social security entitlements and the costs of living.
- The DWP should design and implement a comprehensive child poverty strategy and reinstate the targets and reporting duties on child poverty.
- HM Treasury should extend the analysis of the distributional impact of tax and public spending to look at the aggregate impact in light of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 as well as income and wealth disparities.