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Fawcett Society backs down over budget challenge

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The Fawcett Society has softened its challenge against June’s emergency Budget and is no longer seeking to have it quashed.

The Society, which campaigns for gender equality, had asked Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, for permission to seek a High Court declaration that the June Budget is unlawful and must be reconsidered.

But Karon Monaghan QC, representing the Society, later made it clear it was no longer seeking to have the June Budget quashed.

If given permission to apply for judicial review, the Society will ask for a declaration that the government acted unlawfully in formulating the Budget without obtaining and having regard to gender equality assessments.

Ms Monaghan said the aim was to ensure the same dispute did not arise in future.

The society had earlier argued that women are bearing the brunt of the cuts triggered in jobs, benefits and services after a “complete failure” to take account of gender equality laws, a QC said.

The society argues women are disproportionately affected because more women than men rely on the welfare benefits that are being cut, and the changes to the tax system favour far more men than women.

Ms Monaghan told the judge that, of the £8.1bn in savings raised by the Budget, £5.7bn was being born by women - “72% as against 28% for men.”

Ms Monaghan said: “Top-line analysis demonstrates a grossly disproportionate and devastating impact so far as women are concerned.”

If the judge agrees the society has an arguable case, their judicial review application will go to a full hearing in the near future.

Ms Monaghan argued the chancellor had 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.

It failed to carry out gender equality impact assessments and act in accordance with its own gender equality scheme, said the QC.

Monday’s hearing came as Labour’s equalities spokeswoman Yvette Cooper released research by the House of Commons Library which she said showed that women will bear £11bn of the £16bn tax, benefit and pension cuts imposed in the Budget.

The emergency Budget hit women almost three times as hard as men and chancellor George Osborne’s spending review hits them twice as hard, with a combined total of 27 different policy changes affecting women more harshly than men, said Ms Cooper.

The government is seeking to block today’s High Court application, arguing the Fawcett Society failed to act promptly, and its delay could cause “serious prejudice to good public administration”.

It also argues there is no proper basis for seeking to quash the entire Budget, and the society has got the law wrong on impact assessments.

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