The Fawcett Society has been thwarted in its bid to challenge the legality of the Coalition’s emergency budget over concerns that women will be disproportionately harmed by government cuts and reforms.
The gender equality campaigning group believes that government changes to jobs, benefits and services will have a much larger impact on women than men, and therefore breach discrimination law.
Fawcett had asked the High Court to declare the June budget unlawful because the Treasury had failed to provide evidence that they had assessed whether budget proposals would increase or reduce inequality between women and men, as required under equality law.
A QC for the gender equality group told a high court judge in London that the budget cuts were having a “grossly disproportionate and devastating” impact on women, who were having to bear the brunt of the cuts triggered in jobs, benefits and services.
But Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the application “unarguable – or academic” and dismissed it.
Ceri Goddard, the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, said later she was “obviously disappointed” with the outcome of the case. “We will study the judgment and may well appeal,” she said.
The court action had, however, caused the government to concede that gender impact assessments did apply to the budget and should have been carried out in two key areas: the public sector pay freeze and certain benefit changes.
The challenge had also led to an investigation of the whole gender issue by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said Goddard.
In court, the society argued that women were disproportionately affected by the cuts because more women than men relied on welfare benefits, and the changes to the tax system favoured far more men than women.
Karon Monaghan QC, representing the society, told the judge that, of the Ã‚Â£8.1bn in savings raised by the budget, Ã‚Â£5.7bn was being borne by women – “72% as against 28% for men”.
Monaghan said: “Top-line analysis demonstrates a grossly disproportionate and devastating impact so far as women are concerned.”
She argued that the chancellor, the Treasury and HM Customs and Revenue failed to comply with the government’s duty under the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act “to eliminate unlawful discrimination” and promote equality of opportunity between men and women.
Refusing permission to seek judicial review, the judge said the society had delayed too long in making its application. Such proceedings could have had “a very significant impact” on the budget of a new government and “they should have been brought much more quickly”. He also ruled the application was “unarguable”, and there was “no prospect” of a court declaring the budget unlawful.
The government had been entitled to argue that gender impact assessments could not have been carried out usefully at an early stage in many areas, said the judge.
In two instances where the government conceded there should have been early assessments, it had “expressed regret” and taken action.
Any intervention by the courts would now be “academic”.