Due Consideration

January 10, 2014

I have to admit, I didn’t get far looking at the “consultation” on the 2014 Finance Bill.  Being an impact assessment specialist I started with those, at page A1 (actually page 22 – of 176) of the “Overview of Legislation in Draft” document to be found here.

The first TIIN is for the government’s support-for-marriage measure, the transferable personal allowance for married couples.  A person with earnings below the tax threshold will be able to transfer £1000 of their personal allowance to a spouse or civil partner, potentially increasing the couple’s joint take home pay by about two hundred quid a year.

I got stuck at the equalities impact, which says:

Couples will benefit as a unit, but the majority (84 per cent) of individual gainers will be male.  This reflects earning patterns in the population more generally.

Now let’s just stop there for a doggone minute.  Remember when the Fawcett Society tried to bring a judicial review of the so-called “emergency” budget at the start of the coalition?  They didn’t succeed in getting the Budget overturned but they put the wind up the Treasury which was forced to concede it hadn’t done an equality impact assessment of the Budget as a whole… but it had looked at the impact of most of the measures and promised to do better in future.

So here we are looking at the equality impact of an extremely expensive change (495 million in 2015/16 and then 600, 660 and 775 million, according to the exchequer impact section of the TIIN) and the best we can come up with is that it will mostly be men who benefit, but that’s just how society works?  Seriously?

I mean, I’m not imagining it, the Public Sector Equality Duty is still in force, right? The thing that says (and I checked my memory against the Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance) that a public body like HMRC or the Treasury has to give “due consideration” to equality in developing policy?  That “due consideration” means conscious thought while the policy is being developed (and not a quick run round the equality issues when all the decisions have been taken)?  That the point of it all is to reduce, not to perpetuate, inequality?  I mean, that IS what the legislation is all about, yes, I haven’t just dreamed it?

Now it’s not perfect.  It doesn’t mean that equality has to be the overriding consideration.  The government has left itself perfectly capable of saying, in effect, “yes, I’ve thought carefully about it, but, no.”  It just has to have due consideration – is any negative impact proportionate, and are there any positive impacts that could be incorporated, and have we done everything reasonable to mitigate the negative impacts we know about?

So due consideration of the gender impact of the couples allowance might be something like, well, “it perpetuates and perhaps reinforces negative financial impacts on women by giving a financial reward to men whose partners are in particularly ill paid employment and after careful thought we have decided that our desire to encourage traditional gender stereotyped marriage arrangements outweighs the financial advantage this gives to the men affected.  We also believe they’ll share, honest.”

What isn’t – is seems to me – “due” consideration is to say, in effect, “yeah, we’re giving four times as much of the money to men;  suck it up dear.”

However since this is a consultation on how the legislation works and the TIIN is intended as a decision making tool, well, perhaps there’s time to do something about it?  Because I’m sure, she said sincerely, that the Treasury will have done some proper research into the possible gender impacts of this change and the brief line in the TIIN is just a rather infelicitous summary of some complete and careful work, right?  So how about, say, we all go here (a nifty little website that will give you your MP’s email address) and drop our MP a line asking them to bring up the equality impact when they debate the Finance Bill?  In fact, come to think of it, a Freedom of Information Act request ought to get us the underlying research in good time to inform the Finance Bill debate anyway, right?  Right?  (Goes to write FoI request.  Watch this space!)

One comment

  1. FoI requests duly sent (to HMRC and to HMT) As I said, watch this space!

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