Ensuring equality of opportunity is a key aim for most societies. Gainful employment is arguably a key metric in this regard and this Government has created thousands of new jobs, with a record 2.3 million people now at work in our economy. Our income tax system is considered progressive by international standards; our tax revenue funds a wide range of services, with an emphasis on providing support to the groups in our society who need it the most and consequently our rates of poverty are falling.
Built on the performance budgeting framework that has been gradually embedded into the budget cycle , 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 equality budgeting work such as impact analysis and evaluation are important in any good budgetary process. Equality budgeting should not to be seen as something separate from the budget process; the intention is to embed equality perspectives across the whole-of-year budgetary process. 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. The Government’s performance and equality budgeting programmes are solely concerned with public sector activities; they have no remit in the private sector.
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. 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 was published on October 8th, in tandem with Budget 2020. The report reviews Ireland’s equality budgeting programme and provides recommendations on its further development, in light of international experience. This ongoing process is further guided by the work of the Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group. Once these recommendations have been fully considered by my Department, in conjunction with the Expert Group, I will outline future plans for Equality Budgeting.