I am the head of development at the National Women's Council of Ireland. I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Camille Loftus, who is a researcher and social policy analyst. She has been commissioned by the council to carry out an important piece of research on gender budgeting and how to apply it to the Irish budgetary process. As many members will know, the NWCI is the leading representative women's organisation in this country. We have just over 180 member organisations. Our mission is to achieve full equality between women and men. I thank the committee and the Chairman, in particular, for facilitating our presence this afternoon to give this presentation at what we believe is a critical juncture to progress the work of gender budgeting in this country.
Earlier the committee heard from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It has provided funding to NWCI to carry out the research that Ms Loftus is working on. The project involves bringing together key practitioners and experts from Ireland and internationally to set out a roadmap to progress the implementation of the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to gender and equality proof the budgetary process in this country. The research will develop of model of gender budgeting for Ireland. We will learn from best practice in other jurisdictions with comparative budgetary and policy decision-making processes. We will publish the results in September. Ms Loftus will talk about this matter later in the presentation. We will also publish a suite of materials that will outline in straightforward language the why, what and how of gender budgeting and how it can be applied here. This programme of work will place the NWCI in a unique position in terms of offering guidance, advice and support to key institutions, including this committee, in how best to drive progress on this front.
Before we move on to the what and how of gender budgeting it is worth giving a brief reminder of the why. Members will be familiar with some of the statistics but it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that it has been well established that the recent period of austerity impacted disproportionately on the shoulders of women, in particular certain groups of women such as lone parents and older women. The gender pay gap has widened from 12.6% in 2006 to 14.4% in 2012 and the gender pension gap has widened from 35% in 2010 to 37% in 2012.
The Department of Social Protection's social impact assessment of the main welfare and direct tax measures in budget 2015 found that the smallest gain was in the bottom quintile. In the 2011 TASC produced a report entitled Winners and Losers?, which set out equality findings in respect of budget 2012. It confirmed that women are concentrated in the lower income groups and it found that changes to taxes and social welfare issues that disproportionately impact on low-income groups can also be expected to disproportionately impact on women. The Central Statistics Office produces research entitled the Survey on Income and Living Conditions. The SILC figures continue to find that lone parents, the vast majority of whom are women, experience disproportionate levels of deprivation.
The NWCI believes that a more equal society is not an aspirational idea that might eventually be achieved through the overspill of a trickle-down economy, rather it is the core foundation upon which a sustainable economy must be built. In order to achieve equality we must act purposefully. It requires weighing the benefits and costs of policies that would or could promote women's equality and then, very importantly, taking action in response to that evaluation. Two types of action are required. First, the dedication of public expenditure to explicit gender equality objectives and women’s advancement. For example, establishing child care provision as a form of capital and social infrastructure. Second, expenditure that can be seen as contributing to gender equality more broadly such as gender-sensitive pension reform, changes to taxation, some forms of social transfers and investments in labour market activation initiatives.
Ireland's budgetary process has long been criticised for its opaque and complex nature. Recent reform aimed at providing for greater parliamentary participation and transparency is welcome. The emphasis on evidence-based expenditure policies and performance-based budget approaches, adopted by Ireland in 2012, lend themselves to a more rigorous process. The adoption and implementation of gender and equality budgeting processes aligns neatly with these developments. Gender budgeting involves two key elements. First, changes to fiscal policy or the structure of fiscal policies and, second, administrative changes to expenditure tracking and monitoring systems. Dr. Janet Stotsky is the leading international expert in this area and according to her the most successful efforts encompass both of these elements.
Gender budgeting does not bind the Government to any particular budget decision, but rather makes it easier for Parliament and its many institutions, including this committee, and indeed for the public to evaluate the budget and its impact. I will give a quick example of the affordable child care scheme, which in many ways marks a radical change in policy. If retained and resourced appropriately, this scheme will have long-term positive effects on women's economic equality, both for mothers and for child care professionals, the majority of whom are women. It is a clear example of a fiscal policy change that should stand up well to gender impact assessment processes. With the appropriate administrative changes to tracking and monitoring, those assessing and making the budget can establish whether women’s effective equality has been improved and decide whether to invest, and in which direction. Other jurisdictions, like Austria, for instance, have moved to adopt results-based budgeting, focusing on outputs and outcomes and not just on the inputs. This surely sits comfortably with the reform objectives of Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Equally, the medium-term framework provides a more conducive environment to the results-based gender budgeting model, as a multi-annual approach is required if we are to look at the achievement of equality-oriented goals.
The unit of assessment is integral to this work. The traditional notion of the household unit as only having one set of interests is very much outdated. Gender impact assessments must recognise a diversity of interests, reflecting that women and men respond differently to fiscal policies and other features of the economic environment and that economic policies may have different effects on different members of the same household.
I will now hand over to my colleague, Ms Camille Loftus. She will give an overview of what she has found through her research to be the appropriate steps this committee could take to progress this work in the coming months.