Austerity-driven inequality not “inevitable”, it was a choice, says EHRC

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said widening inequality seen in the UK as a result of austerity policies was a political choice, not an inevitability.

28 Nov 2018| News

Research conducted by experts at Landsman Economics and Kings College London (KCL) on behalf of the government body found that disadvantaged groups were harder hit in England than in the devolved nations as a result of spending cuts.

For instance, total household income in England is expected to fall by £1,450 between 2011 and 2022, compared with £200 in Scotland and £470 in Wales.

This is because the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly were able to mitigate the impact of austerity on the most vulnerable in society through their own policymaking, thus proving that such a feat is possible.

While spending on early years has fallen in England by 50%, and housing by 30%, Scotland’s investment in these areas has increased.

“There were a lot of choices, and the government chose to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest,” Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at KCL and co-author of the study, told the Guardian.

Among those hardest hit by the cuts – which began in 2010 – are female lone parents, black families, severely disabled people and families with more than three children, the researchers found.

John Wilkes, Director of the Commission in Scotland, said: “What is unique about this work is that it shows that we can and must consider the different impacts on different groups before we make major policy changes. Otherwise we risk increasing the inequalities in our society. Positive policies, however, such as mitigating effects of some social security changes has saved many from even greater income losses.”

Indeed, the report concludes that “neither the overall scale of spending cuts in England, nor their precise impact on protected groups, was inevitable”.

The authors further indicated that Westminster may be in breach of its international obligations to human rights, as well as its own domestic laws.

“…the UK government’s published impact assessments do not, in themselves, indicate that its obligations under international human rights treaties have been taken into account; nor do they indicate that the government has paid sufficient regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and the impact of reforms on disadvantaged groups,” they said.