Chief Executive of The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll, responds to the Chancellor’s Budget

The Women’s Organisation is the largest developer and deliverer of training and support for women in the UK. It has supported more than 60,000 women and helped to create in excess of 4,000 businesses since it was established in 1996.

On Universal Credit

“First and foremost, I am beyond disappointed about today’s announcement on Universal Credit. There’s been a lot of noise in recent weeks that we might see a U-turn on the decision to cut the Universal Credit uplift, which has painfully affected countless families across the country and disproportionately affected women. Unfortunately, we saw no such revision.

“In-work poverty is currently at a record high and the decision not to reverse the cuts to Universal Credit illustrates starkly how out of touch the Government is with the most vulnerable members of our society.

“The Chancellor suggests that the reduction of the taper could see low-earning households up to £1,200 per year better off. However, by our calculations, those families are in fact likely to be £200 per year worse off through fuel spending alone – not to mention rising energy prices and predicted hikes in the cost of living in the coming months. It therefore feels a pointless gesture and we would urge the Chancellor to look at this again as a matter of priority.”

On start up and small business support

“Of course, measures to support those sectors which have been hardest hit by the pandemic are very welcome. We’ve seen many of our clients in the retail, hospitality and leisure suffer catastrophic blows in the last two years and it’s heartening to see some measures being announced to improve the landscape for them at least in the short term – though the measures are only temporary and in reality, neglect thousands of small businesses both locally and nationally.

“We are living in a modern day, digital economy and the culture of agile working has been accelerated as a result of lockdown – so to still be talking about bricks and mortar frankly seems absurd.

“Experts predict small and micro businesses are unlikely to return to the previous culture of office working, rather they will continue to adopt the hybrid model we have become so accustomed to – and which has proven to increase productivity for a number of organisations.

“The business rates reliefs announced therefore stand to leave whole swathes of businesses unsupported and this just isn’t good enough. Start ups and small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. They provide jobs and attract investment into individual regions. If we are to see the economy begin to recover and thrive, we must first lift it off its knees by investing in funding and support – it’s what we call speculate to accumulate.”

On skills

“More than ever right now, we require a system set up to meet the needs of upskilling and adult learning. We know that women in particular have been disproportionately affected by high rates of redundancies across the country as the sectors in which women are typically overrepresented, like retail, leisure and hospitality, have suffered as a result of restrictions.

“This has resulted in thousands of women being forced into low paid and often unstable employment. Meanwhile, we are acutely aware of skills shortages in the care sector, public health sector and in construction, for example.

“Whilst I certainly see the benefit in the Government’s ‘Multiply’ scheme, ideally I’d like to see more commitment from the Chancellor in terms of investment in adult learning to directly support the economy and its recovery in the short to medium term.”

On levelling up

“The Chancellors announcement on levelling up geographically was similarly neglectful. It was like a postcode lottery, in terms of which towns and cities will benefit from investment and who will be left behind.

“The announcement of a £2m Beatles attraction for Liverpool was curious, to say the least. While we don’t have a lot of detail at this stage, it does occur to me that there would be more obvious solutions that would more directly and appropriately address issues we have in relation to levelling up in the Liverpool City Region and community-based arts initiatives.

Final word

“As we approach the winter months and experts predict further rises in COVID cases, it occurs to me that the Chancellor’s plan for fiscal tightening could potentially be premature.”

“All in all, I’m afraid that for me the Autumn budget feels temporary and piecemeal. There are lots of billions being thrown around, but we still have no genuine commitment to reforms to R&D, the business rates system, labour market shortages or adult skills and training – all of which are critical to the country’s economic recovery. The devil, as they say, is in the detail so it will be interesting to see what follows in the coming days.”