Social security is a fundamental part of a caring economy. It plays a key role in protecting against social risks (such as illness, poverty, unemployment and old age) and providing support for those engaged in unpaid caring work. Social security in the UK covers cash transfers, some of which are called tax credits, though these are not tax allowances. Many cash transfers, though not pensions, are commonly called ‘welfare payments’ or ‘benefits’. Such payments are part of what United Nations organizations call Social Protection, but the latter is a broader concept that includes provision of basic public services. These are already covered in the public services section so we narrow our focus here to social security cash transfers.
Social security cash transfers assist with replacing lost income, for example on becoming unemployed or unable to work, or retiring, or compensate for additional costs, such as those caused by disability or having children.
Women in the UK, and in other parts of the world where there is a comprehensive social security system, receive on average a larger proportion of their income as social security cash transfers than men.
This is for two main reasons. Firstly, because they tend to have lower incomes and are, there-fore, more likely to be eligible for means tested income support and, secondly, because they often receive benefits for others whom they care for, especially children. For these reasons, changes to social security cash transfers, whether it is the amount that is paid or how they are designed, are likely to have a differential impact on men and women, making this a key area from a gender budgeting perspective.
In this case study, we look at how the Women’s Budget Group has worked with successive governments both to raise awareness of the differential impact of changes to the social security system on men and women, and to advocate for a system that promotes gender equality. This work has seen the Women’s Budget Group employ many of the principles of gender budgeting but, in particular, the following:
- Recognising that income is not always shared equally within households.
- Taking account of the impact of policy on both paid and unpaid work, and the people doing the work.
- Taking a life-course approach.
- Monitoring the differential impacts on men and women, both as individuals and in households.