This week sees us mark International Women’s Day on 8 March – a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Although first observed in 1911, International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. The campaign theme for this year is 'Choose To Challenge'.
The virtual nature of many events will doubtless present challenges as well as some truly international opportunities for collaboration and dialogue. For further details on IWD 2021 and for details of events, please visit www.internationalwomensday.com
Of course, it’s important for lawmakers to consider the impact of the choices that are made by Government all year round. With this week’s budget, it’s particularly important to ensure that the decisions taken are ones that as far as possible enhance equality and opportunity rather than diminish them.
There will of course be siren voices calling for swift action to be taken on the deficit which has resulted from the economic response to Covid, by which they inevitably mean the government making attempts to cut public spending.
The only comparable economic event to the Covid crisis in terms of the impact on national debt has been the debt incurred during World War II. However, can you imagine if the political voices which had prevailed after WWII were the ones that had said that a National Health Service was unaffordable, or that it was unaffordable for the government to play a role in seeking to rebuild housing and industry?
The important figure is not debt of itself, but debt as a share of our Gross Domestic Product. Economic demand will return as vaccinations start to take effect and more of life can return to normal. If Government continues to support the economy through this, the economy will return to trend growth and overall Government debt will shrink proportionately, exactly as it did after WWII.
However, if the brakes are put on spending, demand will fall and people will have less money to spend. Growth and employment will be stifled. Inevitably, the impact of this will then fall most heavily on those who have least, such as those families which have one or more adults out of work and in receipt of benefits.
There are many actions both big and small which the Chancellor could choose to take in this budget which could help or hinder the recovery. However, one of the most significant choices the Chancellor could make would be to make permanent the present £20 uplift in Universal Credit.
That £20 has made the difference for many families between bills being paid or not, and food being on the table or not. It is a comparatively modest financial commitment, but one which has had an impact for the good that far outweighs the resources it requires.
Governments all over the world have increased their support for their economies throughout this crisis, many with interventions that are proportionately far larger than we have seen from the UK Government. Having (rightly) carried the economy this far, it would make no sense for the Chancellor to drop that commitment now.