The Guardian view on women’s rights: do not take progress for granted | Editorial

Austerity, as the UN’s poverty expert noted, is especially harmful to women. The economic shock from Brexit is likely to widen the inequality gap

When Theresa May became prime minister and set out her vision, women were among the groups she promised to champion. She cited unequal pay on a list of “burning injustices” alongside race and class inequalities. This year companies with more than 250 employees were for the first time compelled to report on their gender pay gap. This can be calculated in different ways, but the Office for National Statistics has it at 17.9%, down 0.5% from last year. At this rate it will be decades before women and men are paid the same, but the data is moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, even such modest progress is the exception rather than the rule in 21st-century Britain. Unpalatable though it may be both to ministers and feminists, the evidence suggests that women’s advancement has stalled and is in danger of going backwards – if it is not doing so already. The government did not accept last year’s finding by the House of Commons Library that 86% of the burden of austerity since 2010 has fallen on women – £79bn, against £13bn for men – and refuses to conduct its own analysis. But work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust has shown that women, and particularly BAME women, are disproportionately affected by cuts to public services and other spending.

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