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This is my first Budget in the House. I sat here last week with real hope and anticipation, only to be let down, but as I come from the NHS, I am used to being let down by this Conservative Government.
Last Wednesday—International Women’s Day—was the perfect opportunity for the Government to take concerted action to ensure progress towards true equality for women, but they did not deliver. They simply provided cash handouts to keep women quiet. Yes, I welcome the three measures for women announced in the Budget, but £30 million spending in a Budget of more than £800 billion is simply a distraction from the fact that this Budget does very little for women. It does nothing to enhance their lives or living conditions. If anything, it entrenches them further. Why were women only considered in three measures? Why not throughout the entire Budget?
There is an old quote:
“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”
In the choices we make, we demonstrate what we care about, what we value and what is important to us. It is clear that this Government do not care about or value women, nor deem women them important in our society. Throughout this Budget on International Women’s Day, the Chancellor proved himself to have little to no understanding of the struggles facing women today. The Chancellor has proved himself to be so far removed from women who are just about managing, women who are doing all they can to put food on the table, and women who simply wish to contribute to the economy. The Government had the opportunity to take the burden off of women’s shoulders, but they did not. The Chancellor refused to ensure that women would receive the same pay as their male counterparts when returning to work after a career break.
I visited Burntwood School in Tooting last week, where more than 200 sixth-form students told me that they were concerned about gender inequality. I apologise to those students and all students in Tooting for this Government’s inaction on ensuring that women are seen and treated as equals. I apologise that this Budget not only lets women down, but ensures that it will take until well after the retirement age of those sixth-formers for the gender pay gap to close.
A Budget is not just numbers. It affects real people, real lives and real families. However, that seems to be something that the Chancellor so easily forgets. Food bank usage is soaring. I see families week in, week out in my constituency surgeries who simply cannot cope, who get halfway through the month and are unsure how they are going to provide food for their children. We on the Opposition Benches, have a responsibility to protect this country’s citizens. Forcing women to prove that their third, fourth or fifth child is a product of rape in order to be eligible for further child tax credit and universal credit is simply moving the burden of spending away from one area on to another. The Treasury has chosen to make a series of tax cuts that will actually cost £41 billion a year by 2020—more than the £37 billion saved from social security cuts.
Fundamentally, on a day to celebrate women—all they do and the potential they have—the Chancellor chose to segregate them further in society, and to silence them with cash handouts that will not even touch the sides of improving their day-to-day lives. If it is true that how someone spends their money shows us what they care about, we can only conclude that this Government do not care about true equality for women. This Conservative Government love to focus on having two female Prime Ministers, but it is a Labour Government who will congratulate themselves on how they treat 32.5 million women in the UK. Whatever headlines the Government try to spin, whatever jokes the Chancellor has tried to make and whatever cash handouts they provide—