Legal challenge to Osborne Budget defeated

By politics.co.uk staff

A High Court judge rejected campaigners’ claims that the June Budget broke equality laws and deserved a judicial review.

The Fawcett Society had previously had a written application in August for judicial review rejected, but hoped today’s oral application would meet with more success.

The campaigning group insists that the elements contained in the Budget and the October spending review will hit women disproportionately, given the greater proportion of females in the public sector.

Lawyers for the Fawcett Society had argued that the Budget would have a “grossly disproportionate and devastating impact so far as women are concerned.”

It is claimed that of the £8 billion of cuts announced in George Osborne’s emergency Budget, £5.8 billion will be borne by women.

The push for a judicial review came after Fawcett argued the government had failed to consider the disproportionate impact on women – as it is legally required, say campaigners, to do.

But the judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, threw that concern out, calling it “unarguable – or academic”.

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society said the campaign had nonetheless won an important concession from the government.

She stated : “Although hundreds of thousands of women’s incomes will be affected by the public sector pay freeze, and the poorest pensioners and lone mothers will lose out through the changes to benefits and pensions, the government conceded it had not considered the impact on women and men when drawing up its plans.

“Mr Justice Ouseley judged that policies set to have such a dramatically different impact on women and men merit further scrutiny. The judge said the Equality and Human Rights Commission was best placed to conduct this kind of analysis.

“While we are disappointed not to have been granted a judicial review of the budget, we are pleased the government has today heard that budgetary decisions are not above equality law – and that a court of law agreed with us that the government’s economic processes need to be looked at again.”

The coalition has insisted repeatedly that the stern cuts announced in the Budget and spending review are as fairly distributed as possible. A Treasury spokesperson argued the government takes its equality obligations “very seriously”.

With the ruling the government has been spared an embarrassing period with a judicial review of the Budget which would have taken place next year, but may face further legal battles from other fronts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is undertaking a separate review into the impact the of the comprehensive spending review announced in October.