Last summer the Fawcett Society attempted to create a precedent: they challenged the legality of a government budget. In response to the coalition’s proposal for deficit reduction, which foresaw 500,000 public sector job cuts, the feminist pressure group put in an application for a judicial review. The Treasury, they claimed, appeared to have failed to honour its legal duty under the Equality Act to give “due regard” to the impact on women.The package of changes to jobs, benefits and services, argued the Fawcett Society, would have a greater impact on women than men, breaching discrimination law. It said women were disproportionately affected by the Budget changes, including caps on housing benefit, a freeze on child benefit and a rise in VAT. Women were also more often reliant on the welfare payments that were cut, while changes to the tax system favoured far more men than women.But the bold move didn’t work. High Court judge Mr Justice Ouseley decided not to issue a declaration that June’s Budget had been unlawful, so the application did not go to a full hearing, even though the government had admitted that it had not held an Equality Impact Assessment for the June 2010 budget. And even though before the election Nick Clegg had “pledged” that should he be elected, he’d consider gender impact assessment of the budget.
And even now, the only concession the government has made is to publish an Equality Impact Assessment of the spending review, one so lacking in detail or substance that it reveals almost nothing. So could there be some deeper motive for its reluctance to consider this aspect of its budget, especially as more and more evidence is coming to light to support the Fawcett Society’s predictions?