The UK social security system and its gender effects

Women’s Budget Group
training day, 30 January 2015
The UK social security system
and its gender effects
Fran Bennett
• Gender: not sex (individual characteristic) but
structural and societal patterns and effects
• Purposes of benefits/tax credits
• Structure of UK benefits/tax credits system,
highlighting key gender issues of entitlement,
unit & potential impact; conditionality; payment
• Principles for gender impact assessment
• Government equality impact assessments:
• WBG work on universal credit
Purposes of benefits/tax credits
• Multiple purposes of benefits/tax credits (some
may also be fulfilled by occupational/
fiscal/private/charitable/informal provision)
• Vertical/horizontal/lifecycle redistribution
• Share risks, + not let costs lie where they fall
• Prevention, not just relief, of poverty
• Incentives to work/save/other behaviours
• (+ functional purposes for state: fertility etc.)
• In UK focus on household need at 1 point in time
Structure of
UK benefits/tax credits system
• UK seen as ‘liberal’ welfare state: dominance of
market and means test, especially in benefits
• Non-means-tested benefits for earnings
replacement; but minimal, with poverty focus,
now no earnings relation (except SMP): most are
contributory, though Carer’s Allowance is not
• Means-tested benefits for earnings replacement
• ‘Tax credits’ (benefits) introduced from 1999 to
replace previous top-ups for families with worker
and disabled people; now extended to childless
• Benefits for additional costs (means tested/not)
Benefits/tax credits:
key gender issues
• More of women’s income is benefits/tax credits
• Much debate on benefits/tax credits concerns
amounts of benefit and ways to simplify them
• Important – but insufficient focus on key issues from a
gender perspective - including:
• Eligibility rules (how you qualify)
• Unit of entitlement (individual or family)
• Potential impact on gender roles/relationships/responsibilities, in paid and unpaid work, both
now and in longer term
• Look at whole picture (eg private provision too)
Contributory benefits
• Eg employment and support allowance (ESA),
jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), state pension …
• Eligibility: based on contributions paid/credited; often
based on male working life norm; often seen as
priviliging paid work, undervaluing caring work
• Unit: in UK now no longer family based but individual
• Potential impact: independent income, no incentive to
partner to stop work; unsuited to new labour market?
• Recent developments: removed earnings relation in
pension; working age benefits more inclusive, but also
tighter conditions/cuts/shortened; SMP improvements
Categorical benefits
• To replace income/help meet extra costs
• Eligibility: depends only on falling into certain
group (eg being a carer for Carer’s Allowance;
having a child for Child Benefit (but now tax
charge for high income claimants/partners)
• Unit: usually individual; but CA lower than
contributory benefits (dependant’s rate)
• Potential impact: low long-term state benefit
leads to labour market exit for women? (undermining route to more sustainable income?)
Means-tested benefits/tax credits
• Eg ESA, JSA, Income Support (IS), tax credits
• Eligibility: family based means test, ie entitlement for couples depends on presence,
resources and actions of partner (for couple)
• Unit: family (couple + dependent children) –
claim may be individual/joint for couples
• Potential impact: economic dependence of
partners; disincentives to earn (extra) income,
esp. for ‘second earner’; ‘hidden poverty’
• Eligibility for all benefits/tax credits depends on
conditions (eg residence for Child Benefit)
• But more emphasis recently on behavioural
conditionality, in particular ‘welfare to work’
• Underplay impact of caring on paid work preparation/possibilities? solidify gender divisions if
conditionality modified for only 1 partner?
• Individualised conditionality implies individual
benefit (‘rights and responsibilities’)? Partner’s
actions/inaction can incur sanction for family
• Assumption of all income shared + fungible
• But research suggests esp. women may be in
‘hidden poverty’/may manage family poverty
• So it may be important who benefit is paid to
• Child Benefit is paid to the mother by default
• Child Tax Credit, childcare element of Working Tax
Credit paid to ‘main carer’ (nominated)
• Not same as independent income (for self)
• Analyses of individual incomes (NEP/Landman
Economics etc.): how allocate income for others?
Principles for
gender impact assessment
Not just resources for men vs women but also
Where income comes from and why
Who receives it
How it is labelled and for what purpose paid
How it may affect gender roles/relationships/
inequalities within the home and outside
• Its effect on security/autonomy for individual,
caring responsibilities, and inequalities within
household at point of change and in longer term
Government equality impact
assessments: examples
• Tightening of contribution conditions (2010),
including for ESA
• Benefit cap for those out of work (2012)
• ‘Bedroom tax’/’abolition of spare room
subsidy’ (2012)
• Universal credit (2011)
• Universal credit (2012 impact assessment)
• PM now says EIAs not necessary
UC: general structure and aims
• UC brings together 6 means-tested benefits/
tax credits; assessed once a month; paid in
one lump sum, monthly; ‘digital by default’
• Main aims: simplification + work incentives
• Key goal: changing culture, transforming lives
• Not part of cuts agenda, except administration
– though subsequent cuts sabotage its aims
• Delayed; v. few couples/with children claiming
UC: gender issues
• Work incentives for many ‘2nd earners’ worse;
government’s priority = one earner in household
• For lone parents, few incentives to work more
• Conditionality: imposition of conditions for partners in
couples with children for first time (& extended to
those in work below set income)
• ‘Lead carer’ in couple with children will be treated as
lone parent (ie parent easements of conditionality)
• Monthly payment to 1 account only for couples (if they
can’t decide, main carer/main bills payer gets UC) + if
domestic abuse backup option to split UC (temporary?)