Saving Our Safety Net Fact of the Week: 85% of tax and benefit ‘savings’ have been at the expense of women
Yesterday the Independent Inquiry Into Women and Jobseeker’s Allowance published Where’s the Benefit. Chaired by Amanda Ariss of the Equality and Diversity Forum and co-ordinated by the Fawcett Society, the Inquiry reported important findings about how JSA indirectly discriminates against women.
But I want to start with the report’s findings about the wider context, which provide the headline for this week’s post. As I’ve noted before, social security, tax credits and public services redistribute from people with higher incomes to those with lower; cuts necessarily reverse this process, which means that groups disproportionately likely to be poor – such as women and children – are especially hurt by cuts. (I deliberately add children to this description because we know that mothers in poor families often forgo spending on themselves, especially to protect their children.)
But this report goes further than my posts have done on this subject. It notes that the specific cuts are often targeted at women – maternity payments, children’s benefits. Overall, they note, “85 per cent of the revenue saved through changes to the tax and benefit system since 2010 has come from women (£22 billion), and 15 per cent from men (£4 billion).” They point to research for the Women’s Budget Group, showing that lone parents are hit hardest by far the cuts, losing 15.1 per cent of their disposable income; women account for 92 per cent of lone parents. What is more, single mothers lose around 16 per cent of their income compared with 12 per cent lost by single fathers.
The findings on JSA are especially significant for anyone making proposals about benefit reforms. As the report points out,
The system of benefits for job seekers appears on the surface to be largely gender neutral: women and men are eligible for the same benefits on the same terms
But this turns out to be a classic case of indirect discrimination:
However, the reality is rather different and in practice, women and men have very different experiences of seeking work and thus of JSA.
Now, I think I was well aware of the fact that women’s typical working patterns – more interruptions of work, lower pay and a much greater incidence of part-time work – mean that women find they are less likely to qualify for contributory Jobseekeer’s Allowance. But this report is especially excellent at showing how women are likely to find it harder to comply with the jobsearch rules claimants must comply with. This in turn means that women are particularly likely to be sanctioned – and that the current explosion of sanctions is likely to hit them hard. (I really must point you towards Lisa Nandy MP’s powerful comments on sanctions in a recent Parliamentary debate on poverty.)
In particular, women are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities, more likely to be lone parents and much more likely to be lone parents of young children. This restricts their ability to look for work, but the JSA rules – especially the standard obligations in their ‘Jobseeker’s Agreements’ – often fail to recognise this. Women are likely to find it particularly difficult to comply with the requirement that they be available for work that involves journey times of up to an hour and half.
Women are also more likely than men to have experienced domestic violence, which may limit the jobs they can accept (if they fear their former partner will find out where they work, for instance) and is very likely to harm their self-confidence and sense of agency. Women are more likely than men to have lost their last job through discrimination, harassment or other unfair treatment – which may mean that they have difficulty proving they did not leave work voluntarily.
This report highlights one of my concerns about the huge rise in sanctions – the knock-on effect on Housing Benefit and other passported benefits (such as free school meals, free prescriptions and Healthy Start milk). When lone parents and other mothers lose these benefits because they aren’t told they need to make a claim now they have lost their JSA, it isn’t just the adults in the family who lose out. The report recommends making sure sanctioned JSA claimants still receive 10p of their benefit, so their passported benefit rights aren’t affected.
The report’s authors also have clearly picked up on the growing sense that JSA claimants are being made to “jump through hoops” to lever them off their benefits. PCS report that Jobcentre staff are being encouraged to use the “hassle factor” to “frustrate claimants off benefits”, an MP has told his colleagues that a claimant with learning difficulties who cannot tell the time was sanctioned for being four minutes late (with one of those colleagues, incredibly, defending this) and Mind reports that over 100 people a day with mental health problems are being sanctioned.
This is one of the hidden crises of our time, with women and their families forced into severe hardship. I can’t do better than to finish with their recommendation, which would benefit thousands of the most vulnerable people:
All claimants should receive a thorough diagnostic interview after three months of claiming JSA, to ensure that they are receiving the support they need to move into sustainable, quality employment and are not being required to undertake activities, at a cost to the public purse, that make little or no contribution to their job search.