There has been a good deal of rhetoric in political circles recently about equality and the cuts in public spending.
George Osborne claimed in his budget speech his measures were “progressive”, but independent analysis shows the poor would be hardest hit. Figures from the Commons library show the cuts will hit women hardest. They show over 70% of the revenue raised from direct tax and benefit changes is to come from female taxpayers. Nearly £6bn will be coming from women and just over £2bn from men. Women also make up a higher number of public workers and consequently are likely to be hit by the cuts.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, warned chancellor, George Osborne, that Budget cuts could break equality laws. A letter from Theresa May leaked to the Guardian, writing in her capacity as minister for women and equalities, warned cuts in the budget could widen inequality in Britain. She wrote “there are real risks” that people ranging from ethnic minorities, to women, to the disabled and the old, would be “disproportionately affected”. Urging steps be taken to avoid breaking equality laws, warning “there is a real risk of successful legal challenge”. She went on to say, “I fully share the objective of spending cuts. Equally it is important fairness is at the heart of those decisions so all those most in need are protected”.
In fact, this has already started with The Fawcett Society having filed a legal challenge. They argue the government failed in its legal duty to assess whether spending cuts would hit women unfairly.
A coalition of ethnic minority groups is planning a separate legal challenge. The Opposition obviously didn’t share the government view either. David Miliband said; “Anyone who cares about social mobility can’t believe anything they hear from a government who expect the poor to take the greatest burden.”
And at the same time there seems to be much debate over the likely immediate impact of the cuts, social mobility is in the limelight. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg; “The coalition will boost social mobility by focusing on helping children from deprived backgrounds. Fairness means everyone having the chance to do well, irrespective of their beginnings”. To boost the focus on this issue, former Labour minister Alan Milburn has been appointed the government’s independent reviewer on social mobility.
So, the coalition government is preaching “equality for all”. While various pressure groups and the Opposition are challenging them, so it’s business as usual.