UK tax system ‘making gender inequality worse’

14 Jun 18

Some current tax systems across the world – including the UK’s - are “irresponsible” and are doing nothing to improve gender equality, a parliamentary panel has warned.

Women tend to be harder hit when less revenue is raised through tax as there is less money for public services, which are generally used more by women than men, members of the All-Parliamentary Group on Responsible Tax and Women’s Budget Group said on Tuesday.

Tax cuts tend to benefit men more than women, panel members at the seminar on tax and equality in London explained.

Sue Himmelweit, economist at Women’s Budget Group, said: “To keep raising the income tax threshold at the same time as cutting benefits is irresponsible taxation, in equality terms.

“Chancellors always act like tax cuts are a gift to society, but if we look at the types of tax cuts – fuel tax, alcohol tax, and income taxes for example – these are tax cuts that predominantly benefit men,” she added.

Chancellor Philip Hammond raised the income tax thresholds in the Budget last year, including increasing the higher rate of income tax from £45,000 to £46,350.

The panel, chaired by Margaret Hodge, noted public services and benefits were mainly used by women as they tended to have lower incomes and were usually the primary care givers.  

But the current UK tax system is not bringing in enough revenue to enable local authorities to provide inclusive services and create an equal society, the APPG members said.  

The MPs and economists on the panel added the government should put in place a system of wealth re-distribution to help poor councils recuperate “some much needed funds” for local services.

They added that property tax, business rates or inheritance tax could help tackle this problem.  

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, also said women and girls often pay the price of underfunded public services.  

For example, because childcare is so expensive and there is a lack of public funding in this area, many women are deciding to give up their careers to stay at home or work part-time, resulting in less income than their male counterparts, the group said.

Tracy Brabin, shadow childcare minister, who was in the audience, added that progressive taxation could be used to fund the childcare necessary to help women get back into work after having a child.

Labour pledged free childcare of 30 hours per week ahead of last year’s election to all two to four-year olds.

Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury select committee, said that it was important to examine how tax policy works in real life, including what the gender impact is.

“Analysing the gender impact isn’t that straightforward,” she said, highlighting that every household “does things differently”.

“But the government should be able to demonstrate that it pays due regard on policies with gender importance - and it should be able to display and justify its position.”

The panel added that the Treasury is required to do a gender impact assessment of its policies but has so far failed to do so.

Anneliese Dodds, shadow Treasury minister, said: “We need a much stronger handle on the impact of tax on women’s life opportunities.

“India conducts a tax impact assessment alongside their budget every year – we should be able to do this.”

Walker said that gender equality through the tax system would benefit everyone.

She said: “We must get away from this paternalistic view that ‘men pay tax to support women’, when in fact the work that women do supports men everyday – and this work continues to be under-acknowledged and undervalued.”

Read PF International’s feature on boosting equality through gender budgeting.  

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