Last week on the 10 November the National Women’s Council of Ireland hosted a webinar on ‘Gender Budgeting in Ireland. Orla O’Connor Director of NWCI chaired the event and TASC, the Think Tank for Social Change shared the findings of a gender analysis of Budget 2022, they carried out for NWCI. Guest speakers included Kuxi Ghai from S.P.A.R.K and Shelly Gaynor of Independent Living Movement Ireland.
The annual budget is the main expression of Government priorities for the country therefore gender budgeting is important in advancing women’s equality among these priorities. Gender and equality proofing of budgets is necessary because women continue to be responsible for unpaid care work which reduces their income and opportunities for paid employment. Its also critical in tracking and monitoring investment in public services like childcare which are critical for women’s participation in all aspects of life, particularly in employment. Women are more likely to be low paid workers with less wealth and lower income in retirement which leads to a higher risk of poverty. In terms of budgetary polices, women are less likely to benefit from cuts to income tax or business taxes and will benefit more from spending on public services and social protection.
Violence Against Women
Violence against women is widespread and endemic. The pandemic saw a sharp rise in the rate of domestic abuse and violence against women. According to Women’s Aid, there was a 40% increase in demand for services in the first 6 months with 16 women and 3 children per day seeking refuge, but over 1300 were denied due to lack of capacity. Budget 2022 fell short in resourcing the frontline services in this area, a total of 5m additional funding bringing it to 13m, with 1m of this allocated to policing responses to violence against women. Failure to sufficiently resource the frontline services and supports in this area impacts women’s equality directly.
The 31 million budget allocation in the form of the ‘women’s health package’ was a positive development in women’s health. This funding will go towards implementing the National Maternity Strategy as well as fund the free access to contraception for women between 17-25.
Impact of the budget on economic equality between men and women
There were some small measures brought in Budget 2022, a €5 increase in the pension payment, social welfare payment, job seekers and one-parent families. There was an increase in the amount of parental leave from 5 to 7 weeks. However, the universal payment of €140 a month for child benefit was frozen, which means due to inflation there was a decrease in real terms, negatively affecting women’s disposable income slightly.
Childcare and Housing
Despite the allocation of some additional investment into childcare in Budget 2022, based on the projected outlay of state spending as a percentage of national income, which is the most important metric, the likelihood of a significant change to the sector in 2022 is low. The Unicef target for state spending in childcare is 1% of national income which our government has committed to, but at current levels of state investment, it will take many years to achieve this. In terms of housing, lone parents are at a high risk of discrimination by landlords and 86% of lone parents are women. Female homelessness is at a rate higher than that of our EU counterparts and women are more likely to be using social housing.
If we look back to the aftermath of the financial crisis, we know that women bore the brunt of decisions to cut welfare payments. This cannot be repeated as we emerge from the pandemic.
Positive developments such as the recommendations from the OECD on Ireland’s equality budgeting framework work, mapping of data by the CSO to be used for gender and equality budgeting and the establishment of an interdepartmental group for equality budgeting must be built on effectively. The establishment of the women’s health task force led to the ‘women’s health package’ in Budget 2022, an example of successful gender budgeting. However, Ireland’s National Recovery Plan to help countries recover from the pandemic through EU funding contains no funding allocations for the care economy. This is an example of where gender budgeting was not implemented showing the need for a better cross-party understanding of gender budgeting and increased pressure to implement it.
The full TASC gender and equality budgeting analysis of Budget 2022 will be published later in November. If you have any questions or would like to engage with us, please contact our policy team.