With regard to budgetary matters, when focusing on the primary objectives of reducing the deficit and returning sustainability to the public finances, it has been of vital importance to the Government to spread the burden of the adjustments in as fair and equitable a manner as possible while also seeking to minimise their negative impact on economic growth. The Government must also try to ensure that the available resources are spent carefully and that critical services continue to be delivered.
I am aware of recent calls for an “Equality Budgeting” approach. Many aspects of the expenditure reforms that I have been progressing - notably with regard to enhanced levels of transparency and the publication of a draft budget, which allows for public consultation and debate on the particulars of the budget before it is finalised – are already responding to this.
As you know, the new ‘whole-of-year-budgeting’ reform, announced in the Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014 enhances the role and the policy relevance of the Oireachtas in particular with regard to the role of Committees in ex ante consideration of resource allocation priorities in each area. This provides a forum in which Oireachtas Committees and Departments can assess and discuss the equality implications of any policy proposal in advance of the final Estimates. Furthermore, the Government Programme places emphasis upon performance and delivery across public administration. Performance Budgeting builds performance information right into the heart of the budget documentation and shows what outputs and outcomes are being delivered with public funds. This information is now publicly available on the IrelandStat website and links the Government goals with associated outcomes.
A recent OECD report (titled “Crisis squeezes income and puts pressure on inequality and poverty”), published on 15 May, found that income distribution among Irish households was more equal than the average across the rest of all other OECD nations. In addition to this, the most recent Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2011 illustrates the strong performance of social transfers in protecting those on the lowest incomes. In 2011, social transfers (including pensions) reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate from 50.7 per cent to 16 per cent.
The Programme for Government contains a clear commitment that all public bodies would take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions. The State and its bodies must, of course, comply with all provisions of equality legislation in the development and delivery of policies and services.
Finally, Cabinet procedures require that proposals put to Government indicate clearly whether there is any impact of the proposal on, amongst other things, gender equality, persons experiencing or at risk of poverty or social exclusion and people with disabilities and these considerations are taken into account when taking Government decisions on Budget matters.