Under the Labour government WBG had regular meetings with Treasury ministers and officials and was consulted on the gender impact of new policies. Ending child poverty was one of the main priorities of the Labour government which meant that the WBG had most influence where it was able to argue that a policy change would help reduce child poverty. For example, in 2005 WBG published a report, ‘Women and Children’s poverty: making the links’, which argued that tackling women’s poverty was critical if the government was to end child poverty. Although the report also pointed out that women’s poverty was an important issue it was the link between women’s poverty and child poverty that was most persuasive with government.
The Women’s Budget Group’s work on tax credits (see Case study 2: Social Security) led to a changed relationship with government for the organisation.
With tax credits we were invited inside the Treasury because we had expertise they wanted. So, there was a sense in which we moved from being outside criticising to a much more complicated half in half out engagement over the reconstruction of this area of policy. And there were occasions where we were asked would we promise not to share what we knew if we were invited to comment before things were public. This was complicated for a group that had always understood itself to be outside and whose leverage was always to be an external critic. We agreed to go half inside and not to talk about some of the changes to tax credits before Budget day, which was important because it enabled us to have discussions, but it created tensions within the group.
The UK Women’s Budget Group has had most influence on issues where there are shared objectives with the government of the day.
There is an issue around how issues are framed. Do we frame them to fit with the government agenda or do we try to set our own agenda? For example, the Labour government was very keen on the business case for women’s equality. But this may not help for those issues where there isn’t a business case