• New ONS analysis on well-being. Last week the ONS published analysis of the gendered effects of Covid-19 in the UK, finding that women's wellbeing has been more negatively affected over the past year than men's - reporting higher levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety - and that women have consistently spent more time on unpaid childcare and housework than men during the pandemic.  
  • ~~Ethnicity and mental health. Research from January this year found that both women and ethnic minorities experienced higher increases in mental distress from 2017-2019 to April 2020, with ethnic minority women seeing a higher increase than ethnic minority men or white women. UCL research from November found similar results.
  • ~~Mortality rates. The ONS noted that men have suffered higher mortality rates than women. A peer-reviewed, global Covid-19 meta-analysis published in Nature Communications plays down the role of gender-based socioeconomic or cultural differences in explaining this disparity and argues "fundamental differences" between male and female immune responses are "likely to be a driving factor".

  • Budget 2021. Last week, the Women's Budget Group published its full gendered analysis of the 2021 Spring Budget, arguing that it represented a "missed opportunity to build back better" Key points included:
  • ~~Public services. The planned cuts to public services (£14-17bn per year from 2022 relative to pre-pandemic plans) reflect a "concerning" focus on fiscal consolidation and risk ignoring the lessons of the previous decade, in which spending cuts undermined the public services necessary for an effective pandemic response and disproportionately impacted women, ethnic minorities, low-income and disabled people.
  • ~~Social care and childcare. The Chancellor did not mention social care in the Budget, despite the Prime Minister's promises to "fix" social care, and made no funding available for this. Early years childcare was similarly overlooked, despite the acute financial pressures on both care homes and childcare providers. (See WBG's detailed briefings on social care and childcare for more information.)
  • ~~Gender budgeting. Echoing calls from the EHRC, the Treasury Select Committee and Women and Equalities Select Committee have called on the Treasury to do more to meet its Public Sector Equality Duty obligations and criticised the lack of Equalities Impact Assessment.

  • A care-led recovery. The Women's Budget Group's analysis also criticises the Government for "unambitious" investment plans, arguing that these overlook the benefits of investing in social infrastructure.
  • ~~Social infrastructure. Previous analysis from the Women's Budget Group estimates that investing in care as part of an economic stimulus package would provide almost three times as many jobs than the equivalent investment in construction, with wider benefits for decarbonisation and gender equality. Last year, the Greater Manchester Independent Prosperity Review argued that social infrastructure investment was vital for reducing regional inequalities.
  • ~~Creating a caring economy. The final report of the WBG Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy lays out a blueprint for economic reform, including eight steps for building a care-oriented economy.

  • Violence against women and girls (VAWG). During the pandemic, there has been an increase in male violence against women and girls. Low income, migrant status and disability all increase women's likelihood of facing domestic abuse, underlining the need for policymakers to understand how gender intersects with other axes of inequality.
  • ~~Funding for VAWG services. The WBG's briefing on violence against women and girls welcomes the Domestic Abuse Bill but argues this needs to be matched by funding. The additional £19 million promised at the Budget, in addition to the £125 million promised in the 2020 Spending Review, falls short of the £343 million that Women's Aid estimate is necessary for a "safe and sustainable" network of domestic abuse services.
  • ~~Universal Credit. The structure of Universal Credit - e.g. its distribution at a household, not individual level - has been criticised for increasing women's exposure to financial abuse.
  • ~~Policing. Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and cross-party outcry over the police handling of vigils, the Government's proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has come under criticsm for "failing to protect women" (BBC).
Weekly Updates

Environment and climate change

  • Green recovery for who? UNCTAD's Katie Gallogly-Swan and Common Wealth's Miriam Brett argued that "the UK government's 'green' recovery plan is thick in rhetoric but thin on substance - and it will fail to create a low-carbon, more equal economy." In their piece for the International Politics and Society journal, the authors dissect the March Budget, analyse UK progress on net zero so far and offer an alternative vision for a green industrial strategy.

  • G20 February agenda. UNCTAD's Katie Gallogly-Swan reviewed key stories from February's G20 meetings, covering increasing global liquidity, debt relief, vaccine equity, climate action and international tax.  

  • Economically, socially and environmentally sustainable EU tax reform. A report for the European Parliament called for holistic reform of EU tax systems to prepare for aging populations, digital transformation of labour markets and the crises of climate and inequality. (Summary here)

  • CBI calls for green taxes. The Confederation of British Industry proposed a set of principles to guide the government in 'greening' the tax system and called upon the government to "publish a tax policy roadmap which places achieving net-zero by 2050 at its core".

  • VIDEO: climate-friendly economic targets. Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, author of the Dasgupta Review (our analysis here) and other experts spoke to Channel 4 News about going beyond GDP and using other better ways to assess the state of our economies.

  • Environmental regulation as driver for economic recovery. The Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society, released a report arguing that "ambitious environmental regulations are key to the UK's economic recovery".

  • Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal. The London Office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the Leap have published a free digital booklet that explores what an equitable and just Global Green New Deal could look like.

Local economies

  • Austerity continued. A report from the National Audit Office found at least 25 councils are nearly bankrupt, with 94% expecting to cut spending next year to meet legal duties to balance their budgets.

  • High street collapse. A report from PwC found an average of 48 high street outlets closed per day in 2020. Lisa Hooker, head of consumer markets at PwC, warned this data only included closures known to be permanent, and many outlets which are temporarily closed may never reopen.

  • The local climate commons. IPPR published a report surveying community responses to the environmental crisis and calling for more resources and power to be devolved to communities, and for increased community ownership of assets through the transition. (Guardian coverage here, Twitter thread here)  

  • 'Pork barrel' funding. MHCLG released its methodology for deciding which places receive investment from the UK Community Renewal Fund and the Levelling Up Fund. The FT's Andy Bounds noted how the methodology for the latter fund failed to include measures for the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Prioritisation of constituencies important to the Conservative party in the allocation of funding was widely criticised last week as 'pork barrel' politics.

  • Levelling up Wakefield. King's College London's Professor Anand Menon examines the government's levelling up agenda through the lens of his hometown, Wakefield. (BBC Sounds)

Industrial strategy

  • Government axes industrial strategy. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced the disbanding of the Industrial Strategy Council (ISC).
  • ~~Criticism. FT business columnist Helen Thomas writes that "the government has gone cold on the idea of an industrial strategy just at the point it needs it most", while the CEO of Make UK wrote to the Business Secretary expressing the concerns of the manufacturing industry over the decision.
  • ~~Transparency. The Independent's Ben Chu suggested that the Government's decision comes more from "an aversion not to intervention but to transparency and accountability", and that more short term political interests are likely to define the government's future interventions. (Twitter thread here)
  • ~~ICYMI, economists such as the IPPR's George Dibb and IIPP's Mariana Mazzucato proposed putting the ISC on a statutory footing to improve longevity and consistency in UK Industrial Strategy to solve 'Grand Challenges' back in 2019.

Covid-19 and health

  • Government under fire over data transparency. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee released a report criticising the government's failure to share data used to justify policy decisions - which they argue "placed needless strain on public confidence" and undermined the pandemic response - and calling for increased data transparency in the longer-term Covid-19 fight.

  • UK, US and EU hoard vaccine patents. Rich country members of the WTO blocked a push to waive COVID vaccine patent rights to improve manufacturing capacity and resolve access challenges in poorer countries. (Law 360)
  • ~~Vaccine patents prevent economic recovery. Nabil Ahmed, Head of Executive Strategy and Communications at Oxfam International, made the case for a 'people's vaccine' in a blog for the OECD, including pointing to analysis from the International Chamber of Commerce on the cost of vaccine nationalism to rich countries too.
  • ~~Public support. A recent poll showed 74% of people in Britain believe the UK should prevent specific companies having monopolies on Covid vaccines.

  • Endemic recovery plan. James Meadway explored how to redesign our economies to cope with the long term prevalence of Covid-19, proposing: the rapid distribution of vaccines globally on basis of need, increasing funding to national healthcare systems, travel limitations, redesigning public spaces to allow for greater social distancing, and the reduction of working time.

  • Test and Trace criticised for inefficiency. The UK parliament's Public Accounts Committee said the impact of the Test and Trace system is still unclear despite setting aside £37bn in funding for it. The MP's report questioned an over-reliance on expensive consultant fees and an underperformance in meeting testing demand.

  • Private healthcare. A US healthcare firm planned to set up the first private hospital to employ doctors on fixed salaries. The FT's Gill Plimmer argued the move "will add to the pressure on the restricted pool of doctors in Britain, a problem which has been exacerbated by the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic".

  • People's Commission on Life After Covid-19. Demos has published the final report of Renew Normal: the People's Commission on Life After Covid-19, drawing on the contributions of over 50,000 citizens. The report argues that without radical reform to build a stronger, more resilient, and more united nation, the UK risks never recovering from the huge social and economic impact of the pandemic, and lays out a blueprint for reform.

Trade and regulation

  • Export collapse. ONS data showed UK exports to the EU fell by 40.7% in January, the biggest monthly decline in British trade for more than 20 years, with exports of fish and shellfish decreasing by 83% from last year.

  • Post-Brexit financial deregulation. The Treasury is reportedly drawing up plans to overhaul financial services regulation introduced after the 2008 financial crisis, in a move to "make London's financial markets more competitive post-Brexit".
  • ~~Devolving powers to the FCA. Tax Justice Network's John Christensen suggested that handing the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) powers to shape future rules rather than through parliamentary legislation could reduce the resilience of the financial sector and lead to further crises.

  • Growing monopoly power undermines recovery. An article from IMF head Kristalina Georgieva and other economists argued how "excessive market power in the hands of a few firms can be a drag on medium-term growth, stifling innovation and holding back investment". The authors advocate greater action by competition authorities to prevent market concentration as pandemic-driven bankruptcies rise amongst SMEs. (Watch a video discussion here)

Welfare and public services

  • UBI and UBS. NEF۪'s Anna Coote and Compass's Neal Lawson called for enhanced public services integrated with a basic income to form part of a new social guarantee after the pandemic. The article is notable, given that - as the authors note - UBI and UBS have often been framed as mutually exclusive alternatives in debates around social security reform.

  • Finishing Beveridge. Stewart Lansley writes for Prospect on calls for a new Beveridge Report, arguing that the original 1942 report's plans were never implemented in full and that now is the time to "finish the job", and that Beveridge's vision should be updated to tackle inequality, not just poverty.