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“Austerity is shrinking women’s lives. To end it, the Government must recognise the obvious importance of local services and fund them at a sustainable level.” Heather Wakefield, author of the report.

Cuts to funding for local government have created a crisis, which has hit women hardest according to a new report launched by the Women’s Budget Group today.

Local authority cuts represent a triple whammy for women for a number of reasons:

  • First of all, local government is responsible for many of the services on which women disproportionately depend either as primary users or as mothers or carers of elderly relatives.
  • To follow when services are cut many women have to increase their unpaid work to fill the gaps. For example news that some schools are set to close early on a Friday in order to cope with budgetary pressures will force parents who cannot afford child care to reduce their hours at work if possible or find other employment. This will impact heavily upon single parents of which 90% are women.
  • Finally women represent three quarters of all staff working in councils and schools. Budget cuts have made over one million people have been made redundant from councils across the UK and schools have seen their pay cut and their working conditions worsen.

These cuts to local services, when combined with benefit changes and the onset of Universal Credit have not only left many women with less income but also less access to other forms of support such as Sure Start centres, advice services, and domestic violence refuges.

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.

Budgetary Decisions

“The Government promised that the next spending review would mark the end of austerity. It needs to deliver on that promise and restore local government funding.” WBG Director Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson

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. Going forward Human rights must be actively considered during the budgeting process.


“No less than 5 million women marched on a feminist strike in Spain, women like Kristine are exposing the endemic impunity for rapists in Denmark, human rights defenders like Maritza in Colombia have given their lives to obtain women’s access to natural resources. I feel inspired by women in our country and around the world fighting to put an end to the pay gap, to demand greater investment in public services and to break social stereotypes. We have so much work to do to change mind sets, particularly among us, men. Women are leading the way.” Koldo Casla, Just Fair Policy Director

In November of 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Phillip Alston came to the UK on an official visit. Whilst he was here he attended a number of events with grassroots organisations, including a testimonial gathering event in Newham co-organised by Just Fair and Community Links.

Testimonials such as the ones he heard in Newham led the Special Rapporteur to conclude that:

“If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said, ‘how can we make this system work for men and not for women?’ they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place”.

Philip Alston also raised a number of other issues in his preliminary report that have disproportionately affected women.

For example “women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66. The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalize those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice”.

Headline figures

  • Central government funding for local government fell by nearly 50% between 2010/11 and 2017/18 and will fall by over 56% by 2019/20.
  • Between 2010 and 2020 £16 billion will have been cut from local council’s budgets and the gap is set to grow.
  • In the last year there have been two reports from UN experts highlighting the devastating impact austerity is having on women’s human rights.
  • These cuts have also had a devastating impact on local services. Spending on adult social care fell between 2010/11 and 2016/17, despite an increase of over 14% in the number of people aged over 65 in need of it. 1.4 million people currently need but do not receive social care.
  • More than 75% of England’s local authorities slashed their spending on domestic violence refuges – by nearly a quarter (24%) – between 2010 and 2017