That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Select Committee on Budgetary Oversight entitled ‘Report on Gender Budgeting’, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 30th May, 2018.
I have been nominated to move the motion by the Chairman of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, Deputy Colm Brophy, on what is a comprehensive and important report entitled Report on Gender Budgeting. I thank the committee staff for their work in putting together this report. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the work of Catherine McCarthy in assisting the committee.
This is the first opportunity we have had to hold a substantive debate on gender budgeting. The committee engaged with several stakeholders during the past two years on the equality budgeting agenda. They highlighted the important role that the Committee on Budgetary Oversight can play in improving the budgetary process by scrutinising the impact of various budget measures on different groups in society. In the course of its work the committee met the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Social Justice Ireland, Mental Health Reform, Inclusion Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association. We also received assistance from the Parliamentary Budget Office and officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, who provided useful evidence about the practical challenges involved in implementing an equality budgeting pilot programme.
A Programme for a Partnership Government made commitments to develop the process of budget and policy proofing as a means of advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights. It states that arrangements will be put in place to support budget proofing within key Departments. In this regard the role of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight is to encourage greater transparency in the budget process and to monitor progress in rolling out gender and equality budgeting in Ireland.
One may ask what is gender budgeting. At its most simple, it is a way of assessing budgets from a gender perspective and looking at how they impact specifically on men and women. In other words, gender budgeting examines the impact of budgetary measures on individuals and groups. In practice, gender budgeting can be achieved by asking a number of key questions: what impact does this fiscal measure have on gender equality; and does it increase it, decrease it or leave it unchanged. It is only by using these questions as a framework for budget scrutiny and budget policy formulation that we will progress to fully gender and equality-proofed budgets.
Equality budgeting is particularly important. The Dáil should note that gender budgeting is advocated by a number of international organisations, including the OECD and the World Bank. They argue that there are many historical inequalities between the sexes and that budgets are not usually framed with issues such as the reduction of gender inequality in mind. Today, almost half of OECD countries are carrying out different types of gender assessment relating to the budget. Nevertheless, cultural change is required. This is definitely the case in the Irish context. The members of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight are keen to assist in leading that cultural change. International evidence suggests civil servants and politicians need to recognise that the budget is not a gender-neutral exercise. That was the thinking up until recent decades. Such thinking is even reflected in the present day, and we can see evidence of that thinking in the present day in some Departments. For example, many of the chapters in the 2018 tax strategy group papers contain a single line statement regarding the gender and equality implication of various proposed tax measures. Most of these statements simply state that there are no specific gender or equality implications with regard to a particular fiscal measure.
Many gender equality experts have cited this so-called veil of neutrality as one of the obstacles to implementing gender budgeting and putting women on an equal economic footing. In a recent study on gender equality, Dr. Angela O'Hagan explained that for gender budgeting to be truly transformative there needs to be recognition that women have had and continue to have an unequal economic status in society and, therefore, public policy must seek to redress the undervalued, underpaid, under-represented and unequal status of women currently and historically. This is one of the main goals of equality budgeting.
While the committee recognises the challenges involved in implementing gender budgeting processes, it also believes that the benefits to Irish society far outweigh the difficulties. The substantial benefits include improved economic performance, improved design and transparency of budget measures, good governance and, crucially, increased confidence in Government.
Where does the improved economic performance come from? Gender budgeting is not a new concept. Research has established the link between equality and economic growth. For example, in 2014 an IMF note stated:
The Fund has recognized in recent years that one cannot separate issues of economic growth and stability on one hand and equality on the other. Indeed, there is a strong case for considering inequality and an inability to sustain economic growth as two sides of the same coin.
The European Institute for Gender Equality carried out a study in 2017 to estimate the socioeconomic impact of improved gender equality. The study found that improving gender equality across the EU could potentially result in 10.5 million additional jobs by 2050. That would represent an increase in GDP per capita of almost 10% by 2050.
The benefits of gender budgeting extend beyond simply economic performance. Implementing gender budgeting processes can also help to achieve broader aims of budgetary reform. In its report, Towards Gender Responsive Budgeting in Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland stated that gender budgeting was good budgeting as it could help to increase accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency of the budget formulation process. The report said it could also help to avoid the expense and time required to reverse unequal policy measures. One such example of an unequal policy measure was the change to the pension bands in 2012, which had a negative impact on female pensions in particular.
The committee's report also highlights the fact that countries with larger numbers of women in ministerial positions or in parliament tend to have lower levels of inequality and a high level of confidence in Government. We noted OECD research which found that increasing the number of female policy-makers can result in a more balanced approach to policy design and service delivery.
The key recommendation of the committee's report was an equality budgeting statement. The report went to the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform requesting that he should produce such an equality statement as part of budget 2019 and that such a statement should be read out in conjunction with the budget document. The report recommended that the equality budgeting statement should set out broad and ambitious strategic gender equality goals. These strategic goals should be linked to the gender equality performance indicators, objectives and targets chosen by Departments for inclusion in the equality budgeting initiative. This would advance the integration of gender and, over time, other aspects of equality budgeting into the annual budget process. This recommendation was made in line with international best practice. For example, in Scotland an annual equality budget statement provides analysis that gives citizens useful information on assessing the equality impact of various budget measures.
In the recent budget the Minister referred to equality and gender budgeting in a risible way and in a rather limited paragraph contribution to his Budget Statement. The committee welcomes the Minister's commitment to make further progress to broaden the pilot project he mentioned to encompass other dimensions of equality. The committee also agrees that the establishment of the expert advisory group committed to by the Minister will provide further guidance in this area. However, the committee was disappointed to note that the Minister was not in a position to provide an equality budgeting statement as part of budget 2019 and that he has not responded to the committee's recommendations in this regard.
The committee calls on the Minister to commit to producing a full equality budget statement to be read alongside budget 2020. The introduction of an equality budget statement would represent a significant milestone for Ireland as it would be the first of its kind. It would place the issue of gender equality on a more prominent footing and would cement the Government’s commitment to enhancing equality in Irish society and improving budgetary reform and transparency.
The committee welcomes the introduction of an equality budgeting pilot programme in respect of voted expenditure and the corresponding performance of the public services. However, the committee does not believe that the pilot programme is sufficiently detailed or ambitious. The committee recommends that the Parliamentary Budget Office's analysis of the equality budgeting pilot programme and constructive feedback contained in its analysis should be used by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to improve the pilot in the six Departments involved.
Another important point highlighted by the National Women's Council of Ireland and other gender equality experts is that the lack of disaggregated data is a key barrier to implementation of a gender budgeting process. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform put a system in place to help the six pilot Departments identify and record gaps in available budget data. The committee also recommends that officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform appear before it in due course to discuss the results of its annual review of the equality budgeting pilot programme. This continued dialogue will ensure that there is continued progress to build on the work of the pilot programme.
The committee believes that successful equality budgeting involves bringing together gender equality expertise and expertise in public finance management. As a result, it recommends the establishment of a dedicated unit within each of the six Departments participating in the equality budgeting pilot programme.
The committee also received evidence from representatives of disability groups which emphasised the importance of assessing the equality impact of budget measures on different equality groups, including disabled persons. The committee hopes that the equality budgeting pilot can be extended, over time, to other aspects of equality budgeting.
In terms of developments since the publication of the committee's report in May, we received an excellent presentation from Dr. Claire Keane and Barra Roantree from the ESRI, who showed how budgets can be gender proofed in the future. The ESRI’s simulating welfare and income tax changes, SWITCH, model is widely used at budget time to examine the tax benefit policy changes that have happened and on whom they have impacted. However, the model only examines the impact on socioeconomic groups. In a project funded by the Parliamentary Budget Office, the SWITCH model was recently updated. Improvements to the model mean that it can now be used to examine the impact of tax benefit policies according to gender. This updated model is a positive development and offers a very practical example of gender proofing in practice.
I will give a few examples of the SWITCH model being adapted to the budget in terms of gender equality. In the context of budgetary policy between 2008 and 2018, when it used the SWITCH model, the ESRI discovered that female lone parents lost out by more than other singles. When we consider the assumption that couples do not fully pool their incomes, we discover that working-age married women lost significantly more than working-age married men. Most income losses and most of the gender differences in income losses occurred during the austerity period, whereas fewer differences between the impact of budgetary policy on men and women were observed in the recovery period from 2013 to 2018. The committee, therefore, strongly supports the use of the updated SWITCH model to carry out ex-post analysis of budget 2019. Given that the updated model has been made available to Departments, we strongly believe that it should be used to carry out ex-ante analysis of key budget measures ahead of budget 2020. The Committee on Budgetary Oversight also recommends in its report to the Minister for Finance that, arising out of the Scottish experience, a report be commissioned into the role of women in the economy.
The committee is committed to its work in continuing to progress, promote and monitor the integration of gender budgeting and other gender equality measures into the annual budget process. The committee believes that by having these tools available to analyse the impact of different budget options in future, we can hopefully try to avoid policy decisions which have an adverse impact on women.
In the context of our recommendations concerning commissioning a report into the role of women in the economy, the Minister has not responded to that suggestion and he has not responded to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight report on gender budgeting, even though it was submitted to him in May. That is my report on behalf of the committee.