Higher taxes, fairer society: UK survey shows desire for equality

Authors of new report call for radical change to economy, recognition of unpaid care work, usually done by women.

Women do 60 percent more unpaid work than men, according to the Women's Budget Group think-tank [File: Molly Darlington/Reuters]

People in the United Kingdom would be happy to pay higher taxes for a fairer, more caring and gender-equal society as the coronavirus pandemic transforms people’s views about the world they want to live in, economists said on Wednesday.

In a report to be presented to parliamentarians, regional governments and business leaders, they laid out a radical road map for building a “caring economy” that puts people and the planet first.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, a think-tank, which published the report.

“People don’t want to return to business as usual. We’re calling for a fundamental change in the way we approach the economy. It’s about a vision for doing things differently,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

At the heart of the proposed new economy is a recognition of society’s reliance on paid and unpaid care work – most of which is done by women – and the need to distribute this more equally.

Proposals include introducing free social care, free childcare, equal sharing of parental leave, a fairer minimum wage, a universal basic income for retired people and reducing the working week to about 30 hours.

Stephenson said the pandemic could be a catalyst for reform, similar in its effect to the introduction of the UK’s welfare system after World War II.

The transformation could be funded by major changes to the taxation system and borrowing, she added.

The survey of more than 2,000 people showed a significant majority would be willing to pay more tax to support secure jobs for everyone, a pay rise for key workers, green transport and affordable housing.

The British government’s budget deficit – the excess of its spending compared with its receipts – reached a record 174 billion pounds ($223bn) in the first five months of its fiscal year as it rolled out programmes to support laid-off workers and struggling businesses, the Office for Budget Responsibility reported last week.

The government’s net debt – the difference between its financial assets and liabilities – grew by almost 22 percent in August compared to a year earlier to 102 percent of the size of the UK economy, its highest since the 1960-61 fiscal year.

After reports that the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was considering raising taxes to help plug the holes in the government’s finances, business groups and members of his Conservative Party were quoted in local media as saying that doing so would “choke off” the country’s economic recovery.

A more caring society

Stephenson said the pandemic had brought into stark relief the importance of care work to the economy – both paid and unpaid.

Women do 60 percent more unpaid work than men, reducing their time for paid employment, hurting their earnings and leaving them poorer in old age, she said.

The Women’s Budget Group poll suggested men, as well as women, overwhelmingly agreed that a better balance was needed between paid work, caring responsibilities and free time.

Three-quarters of respondents thought economic equality between women and men was the mark of a good society.

Four in five respondents – including three-quarters of men – agreed women and men should equally share caring for children, older and disabled relatives, with most saying the government should financially support men to provide more care.

“The way things work at the moment they don’t work for women, but they don’t work for men either,” Stephenson said. “Just as women need some time free from care, men need time to care.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters