International Women's Day: Gender equality will only be achieved after Scotland becomes an independent country – Kirsten Oswald

Policies that disadvantage women have become the norm from this Westminster government, says SNP MP Kirsten Oswald

This week we marked two important political events, the Chancellor’s Spring Budget and International Women's Day. The two are inextricably linked, with the UK Government's financial plan having a massive impact on women – their finances, their future and their families.

Yet, the Budget set out on Wednesday – only two days before International Women's Day – would suggest that the Tory government are so incompetent that they don't know this, or they just don't care. What is clear from this Budget, is that Westminster isn't working for Scotland and the women that live here.

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This Budget should have been seen as an opportunity to narrow gender gaps – instead the Tories chose to take a sledgehammer to progress made on gender equality by slashing public services, which women disproportionately rely on, and opting for a tax cut that will benefit men more than women.

Jeremy Hunt's Budget was a missed opportunity to close gender gaps (Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/WPA Pool/Getty Images)Jeremy Hunt's Budget was a missed opportunity to close gender gaps (Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Jeremy Hunt's Budget was a missed opportunity to close gender gaps (Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

And the depressing fact is, we're not even surprised. Policies that disadvantage women have become the norm from this Westminster government which has given us Brexit and 14 years of austerity – both of which have impacted women more than men. this Budget was the same old story from the Tories.

The Chancellor’s flagship announcement – the 2p cut to National Insurance – is deeply underwhelming, with the reality being that the bottom 20 per cent of earners will stand to gain only additional £70 a year. However, it is further disappointing that this announcement will still benefit men more than women.

The cuts to public services will disproportionately impact women, given they are more likely than men to seek out healthcare, as have repeated cuts to public services and welfare, with women more likely than men to rely on public services and social security because of their generally lower earnings, longer lives and greater caring responsibilities.

Women are more likely to be in part-time work, on low-paid or zero-hours contracts, as well as being more likely to work in care sectors and public services that are underpaid and undervalued – and that greatly contributes to the fact that women consistently face the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis.

Yet the Chancellor failed to bring in any cost-of-living support. Like the pandemic and austerity, the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating pre-existing gender inequalities but Tory ministers are sticking their heads in the sand over this fact. Ultimately, on this International Women’s Day, women are left dealing with the ramifications of a Budget where neither women nor gender equality were prioritised.

In stark contrast, advancing equality for women and girls in Scotland is at the heart of the SNP’s work and is central to our vision of an independent Scotland. The SNP are committed to equality, not just in words but in action.

We have implemented the ambitious women’s health plan, which covers areas like menopause services and mental health, created a fairer and more progressive income tax system, and thousands of parents, particularly women, have benefited from the SNP’s transformational investment in free childcare and the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment.

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At the recent SNP conference, the First Minister announced the £500,000 ‘fund to leave’ which will support women fleeing domestic violence and will help them pay for the essentials that they and their children need. In Westminster, SNP MPs have led the charge standing up for Waspi women, fighting against cruel policies like the two-child cap, and proposed laws for paid miscarriage leave and neonatal care. And it was an SNP MP that brought in the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017.

I promise women in Scotland that we will continue to stand up for you at Westminster. Voting SNP in this year's general election will ensure women in Scotland have a strong team of SNP MPs at Westminster making our voices and values heard. Whilst the SNP Scottish Government is committed – and remains committed – to using the powers it has to make a positive difference, it will continue having to act with one hand tied behind its back for as long Westminster holds key powers over welfare, employment and the economy.

Scotland has spent decades paying the price of cruel Westminster policies, and the Chancellor's Spring Budget made clear that this is set to continue. Westminster isn’t working for women across Scotland. Decisions impacting women in Scotland, should be made by women in Scotland – not Westminster.

For as long as Scotland remains under Westminster control, SNP MPs will continue to stand up for Scotland and the women that live here – but if we are to truly achieve gender equality and a better future for all women and our daughters, then we must have the right to choose our own future with independence. That can only ever happen by voting SNP.

Kirsten Oswald is SNP MP for East Renfrewshire



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