Health and Healthcare Systems

Britons would pay more tax for a fairer society as COVID-19 exposes inequality

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak visit Pizza Pilgrims in West India Quay, in London, Britian June 26, 2020. Heathcliff O'Malley/Pool via REUTERS - RC22HH9SCE28

Good news? Image: REUTERS

Emma Batha
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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  • A survey by Women's Budget Group showed that the majority of Britons would be willing to pay more tax to make society more equal.
  • The extra money would go to securing jobs for everyone, a pay rise for key workers, green transport and affordable housing.
  • It also showed that the vast majority believe COVID-19 has exposed profound inequalities in the UK, especially in regard to social and childcare.
  • The poll took into account the views of 2,000 people and has been presented to parliament.

Britons would be happy to pay higher taxes for a fairer, more caring and gender-equal society as the coronavirus pandemic transforms people's views about the world they want to live in, economists said on Wednesday.

In a major report to be presented to parliamentarians, regional governments and business leaders, they laid out a radical roadmap for building a "caring economy" that puts people and the planet first.

Have you read?

"This is an idea whose time has come," said Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of feminist think-tank the Women's Budget Group which published the report.

"People don't want to return to business as usual. We're calling for a fundamental change in the way we approach the economy. It's about a vision for doing things differently," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

At the heart of the new economy is a recognition of society's reliance on paid and unpaid care work - most of which is done by women - and the need to distribute this equally.

United Kingdom Civic Participation Taxation COVID-19
A caring economy encompasses gender equality, wellbeing and sustainability. Image: Creating a Caring Economy: A Call to Action

Proposals include introducing free social care, free childcare, equal sharing of parental leave, a fairer minimum wage, a universal basic income for retired people and reducing the working week to about 30 hours.

Stephenson said the pandemic could be a catalyst for reform in the same way as Britain's welfare system was introduced after World War Two.

The transformation could be funded by major changes to the taxation system and borrowing, she added.

Stephenson said the pandemic had brought into stark relief the importance of care work to the economy - both paid and unpaid.

Women do 60% more unpaid work than men, reducing their time for paid employment, impacting their earnings and leaving them poorer in old age, she said.

A poll published by the Women's Budget Group showed men, as well as women, overwhelmingly agreed a better balance was needed between paid work, caring responsibilities, and free time.

Three quarters of respondents thought economic equality between women and men was the mark of a good society.

Four in five respondents - including three quarters of men - agreed women and men should equally share caring for children, older and disabled relatives, with most saying the government should financially support men to provide more care.

"The way things work at the moment they don't work for women, but they don't work for men either," Stephenson said. "Just as women need some time free from care, men need time to care."

The survey of more than 2,000 people also showed a significant majority would be willing to pay more tax to support secure jobs for everyone, a pay rise for key workers, green transport and affordable housing.

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