Countries ‘must stop tax avoidance to tackle gender inequality’

14 Jun 18

Putting a stop to tax avoidance is key to tackling gender inequality, as countries are missing out on revenue to fund public services, a UK parliamentary group has heard.

Women are “hit the hardest” by unfair tax policies, as they tend to use public services more, according to evidence given to the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Responsible Tax and Women’s Budget Group UK on Tuesday.

This is because they tend to be on lower incomes and are usually the primary care giver, so are more likely to draw on public funds, the panel heard.

When there is not enough revenue to fund services, such as benefits and childcare, women are also more likely to give up their jobs to take care of their children, it said.

The failure of governments to address the impact that their tax systems have on women is creating an “irresponsible tax system”, Sue Himmelweit, economist at Women’s Budget Group said. 

She added: “Tax havens undermine the ability of all poor countries to raise revenue and so a lot of poor countries are not even providing the basic [public] services that matter to them.

“But so equally is the level of corporate tax and feeding into the race to the bottom is equally a problem,” Himmelweit said.

A study last year found that European governments were leading the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of tax, where rates globally are heading towards zero by 2052, with 12 governments in the European region cutting rates or planning to over the next few years.

Clare Coffey, inequalities programme advisor at Oxfam, who was in the audience, pointed out that the Sustainable Development Goals ask for governments to look at how their public financial management responds to gender.

Although, she added most had failed to do so.

SDGs are 17 goals that 193 countries of the UN General Assembly signed up to on 25 September 2015, and aim to end poverty and protect the planet.

Many countries have said they will conduct a ‘gender impact assessment’, alongside budgets or policies, but most have not done so – the UK being one, the seminar heard 

But Anneliese Dodds, Treasury minister of the Labour party, said: “India conducts a tax impact assessment alongside their budget every year – we should be able to do this.

“We need a much stronger handle on the impact of tax on women’s life opportunities.”

Himmelweit added: “The view that it’s better to reduce taxes and have governments spend less, in practice increases gender inequality.”

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