The ongoing work regarding Equality Budgeting in Ireland follows the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to ‘develop the process of budget and policy proofing as a means of advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights’. The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 also contains a related commitment.
The elements that make gender and equality budgeting work such as impact analysis and evaluation are important in any good budgetary process. Gender and equality budgeting should not to be seen as something separate from the budget process, the intention is to embed a gender and equality perspective throughout the budgetary process, with a whole of year budgetary focus.
A pilot programme of equality budgeting was introduced for the 2018 budgetary cycle, anchored in the existing performance budgeting framework. International experience has shown the importance of setting specific and measurable targets. This approach works well in terms of transparency around objectives and measuring progress. For the first cycle of equality budgeting, a number of diverse policy areas were selected with associated objectives and indicators published in the Revised Estimates Volume (REV) 2018. Progress towards achieving those targets was reported on in the Public Service Performance Report 2017.
Responsibility for proofing expenditure programmes, the selection of indicators, and making progress towards achieving the high level goals articulated is a matter for the individual spending Departments in the first instance. The role of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is to facilitate the initiative and provide support for Departments to fulfil the Programme for Government commitment.
Following the achievements of the pilot programme, Equality Budgeting was expanded in 2019 to further develop the gender budgeting elements and to broaden its scope to other dimensions of equality including poverty, socioeconomic inequality and disability. In addition to the six equality objectives identified in the pilot (Phase 1), a further eight objectives were added for 2019 (Phase 2). This means nine Government Departments are now actively engaged with Equality Budgeting. An update in the Public Service Performance Report 2018 outlined progress in the pilot.
To further guide the roll-out of equality budgeting, an Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group was established, holding its first meeting in September 2018. The group has to date met on five occasions. This group is comprised of a broad range of relevant stakeholders and policy experts to provide advice on the most effective way to advance equality budgeting policy and progress the initiative.
My Department, in liaison with the Department of Justice and Equality, commissioned the OECD to undertake a Policy Scan of Equality Budgeting in Ireland. This Scan has been conducted during the past three months, with the final report expected from the OECD during September 2019. The report will examine actions taken to mainstream equality considerations as part of the budget process. It will also provide options and recommendations on future directions for Equality Budgeting in Ireland, in light of international experience. In addition to guidance from the Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group, this report will inform the future development of Equality Budgeting in Ireland.