As a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight I am delighted to strongly endorse this important report, which was launched on 30 May this year. Gender and equality budgeting have been major priorities for our work. I was of course disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, did not present a gender budgeting report alongside budget 2019 on 9 October last, as is recommended in the report before us.
I am grateful to the clerk of the committee, Mr Ronan Murphy, our policy adviser and economist, Ms Catherine McCarthy, and our administrative officer, Ms Miriam Plunkett, for all their work in bringing this important report before us. Thanks are also due to Ms Annette Connolly, director, and her staff in the Parliamentary Budget Office and finally, of course, to Chairman of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, Deputy Colm Brophy and all my colleagues on the committee.
We were delighted to have such a range of distinguished stakeholders present to the committee on gender and equality budgeting. We met with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the financial scrutiny unit of the Scottish Parliament, the Irish Wheelchair Association, the Disability Federation of Ireland, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. We also had representation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and, of course, the Parliamentary Budget Office. The committee’s policy adviser, Ms Catherine McCarthy, travelled to Germany to attend a conference by the European Institute for Gender Equality on gender budgeting and we also examined experiences of the Basque country and Austria. Senator Alice Mary Higgins played an important role in initiating the work which led to this report. I recall a very early meeting that Senator Higgins arranged with Scottish parliamentary colleagues, which Deputy Boyd Barrett and I also attended.
Diane Elson in her 2001 paper, “Strengthening Economic and Financial Governance through Gender Budgeting”, defines gender budgeting as trying to “analyse any form of public expenditure or methods of raising public money from a gender perspective, identifying the implications and impacts for women and girls as compared to men and boys.” Professor Elson also notes that the practical steps needed to gender-proof budgets include assessing what impact any fiscal measure has on gender equality and determining whether it reduces, increases or leaves gender equality unchanged.
Austria is one of just three countries worldwide that has enshrined the concept of gender budgeting into the constitution. The nation, states and communes of Austria have to assess each chapter of their budgets on a gender equality outcome basis. Of course, the Austrian budget committee carries out ex ante scrutiny of gender outcomes on each proposed budget and its court of audit, which is like our Committee of Public Accounts, does the ex post assessment.
As we learned at the meeting organised by Senator Higgins and subsequently from the Scottish financial scrutiny unit, Scotland’s budgets since 2009 have been accompanied by an equality budget statement and the Scottish Government is working on a gender index for Scotland. In 2014, the Scottish Government also commissioned the Sawer review which sets out an action plan to address the inequalities facing women in Scotland.
In our report on gender budgeting, the committee notes the initiative of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in rolling out a pilot programme to progress equality budgeting in Ireland. The programme, of course, involved six Departments, namely Transport, Tourism and Sport; Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Children and Youth Affairs; Education and Skills; Health; and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Gender equality objectives and indicators from those Departments have been also published in the revised Estimates volume for 2018. The committee report notes the launch of the pilot programme but many constituents feel the programme could have been much more far-reaching and ambitious to speed up the attainment of full gender equality in national budgets and in the workforce.
The budgetary oversight committee rightly draws attention to lacunae and gaps in the pilot which were researched and highlighted to us by both the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Parliamentary Budget Office. Our report emphasises that metrics in the programme were not clearly linked to expenditure. That is a key point as such a link is needed for this kind of programme. The key high-level metrics for large financial allocations are not linked to the activities and expenditure of each Department in question. Clearly, as the report concludes, the formatting and presentation of pilot metrics and targets could be significantly improved. It is deplorable that a key recommendation of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the publication of an equality budget statement to sit alongside the budget statement itself – and the reading of such a statement by the Minister – was not accepted or acted on by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for budget 2019. I believe we should also adopt the recommendation of the National Women’s Council of Ireland that gender budgeting be placed on a statutory basis, perhaps indeed underpinned by a constitutional amendment.
The analysis in our committee report reflects on the challenges and difficulties presented by a gender budgeting process. In particular, the collection of sex-disaggregated data, as begun, for example, by Israel in 2008, is critical to the successful roll-out of gender budgeting for the future. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s request to Departments involved in the pilot programme to identify and log where data deficiencies exist is an important first step but the committee report rightly asks for much more to be done in this regard.
When the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, engaged with the committee, I also asked him if the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would utilise the ESRI SWITCH model to invigilate the gender impact of budgetary measures in budget 2019. Regrettably, he replied that his was not possible for budget 2019. However, I commend the initiative of the Parliamentary Budget Office in commissioning the ESRI to examine the expansion of the capacity of the SWITCH model to include effective scrutiny of the gender impact of budgetary measures in Ireland. I note that ESRI informed the committee that a pilot project ESRI carried out for the Equality Authority and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in 2014 looked at the gender impact of tax and benefit changes and showed how the SWITCH model could be extended to provide a gender impact assessment. ESRI, of course, reported that working-age, lone parents who are predominantly female are significantly more exposed to changes in tax policy and benefits than other cohorts. Dr. Claire Keane and Dr. Barra Roantree of ESRI presented to the committee last month and gave us a valuable insight into the work of ESRI’s tax-benefit SWITCH model. They showed how gender-based divisions of work and caring roles result in differences in incomes and benefits received and how differences in work and PRSI contribution histories can also deeply affect welfare payment rates and whether an individual even qualifies for a benefit in the first place.
The committee report also highlights the Scottish Government’s equality and budgetary advisory group and the Austrian system of performance budgeting, which allows priorities such as gender equality budgeting to be included. Briefing paper No. 4 of the Parliamentary Budget Office, “The Gender and Equality Budgeting Pilot in the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2018”, has been also of great assistance to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The Parliamentary Budget Office report shows that only just over €1.8 million in total was spent on the six departmental programmes and that “there is scope for building upon and enhancing the metrics and indicators employed in the pilot”.
The Parliamentary Budget Office is also right to stress that gender budgeting should address specific and identifiable goals and that further development of this pilot is, of course, necessary. Massive development of the pilot is required. The Parliamentary Budget Office also stressed that high-level metrics provided within the pilots are not clearly linked to specific allocations at subhead level and that pilot goal, metrics and indicators are difficult to distinguish from pre-existing programme metrics. If one looks at the programmes, one can see that is the case.
Of course, the pilot programme includes laudable aims including increasing the number of female apprentices, increasing female participation at all levels of sport, achieving gender balance in scientific research teams, improved participation by women in the film industry and the media, and much more affordable childcare.
The critique of the Parliamentary Budget Office and our committee report clearly show, however, how much more rigorous analysis is needed for much more ambitious gender equality programmes in all Departments.
The Committee on Budgetary Oversight report quotes from the IMF that “the Fund has recognized in recent years that one cannot separate the issues of economic growth and stability on the one hand and equality on the other”. The report also correctly quotes the study of the European Institute for Gender Equality which found in 2017 that greater gender equality across the EU could result in 10.5 million additional jobs by 2050 and an increase in GDP per capita of almost 10% by 2050, and that it could be a major economic instrument to address some of the demographic challenges facing Europe. The OECD Deputy Secretary General, Ms Mari Kiviniemi, also quoted an OECD estimate that a 50% reduction in the gender gap in labour market participation would lead to a 6% increase in GDP by 2030. To put it more simply, in the words of the song by Bobbie McGee, “Bread and Roses”, “the rising of the women means the rising of the race”. I am sure the Acting Chairman knows that song.
With those caveats, I am delighted to support the recommendations of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. I again thank all those who were involved in the report’s production and who advised us so well. The benefits of gender budgeting are a sine qua non for a highly productive, happy and egalitarian society.