Gender budgeting will create more effective targeting of public resources


by Rob Whiteman, CEO, CIPFA  

Despite advances in gender equality, a number of enduring inequalities between women and men persevere. Women continue to experience inequalities in pay, in employment and promotion opportunities, and the proportion of their incomes derive from social security. Women still tend to continue to have more responsibility for unpaid work including childcare, care for older or disabled people, and domestic work. 

For many women, this results in a greater reliance on public services and can limit the amount of time they have for paid work and other activities. It also means that when public services are withdrawn, or social security spending is reduced, women are worst affected, with Black and Asian women among the worst affected by changes in tax and benefit systems.

Gender analysis of budgets aims to challenge the assumption that budgets are gender-neutral – that budgets do not have impacts that reinforce gendered outcomes. It examines how budgetary allocations affect the economic and social opportunities of women and men. And contests to redistribute resources to achieve more equal outcomes and advance equality. 

Budgets have long been thought of as purely technical exercises - balancing income and expenditure within limited or scarce resources. With public finance managers under increasing pressure to ensure value for money and demonstrate efficiencies. What must be recognised is how effective gender analysis, and wider equalities analysis of policy and spending decisions, make for more targeted allocation of limited resources. In turn, this can achieve better outcomes from public money and improved results for the people using public services.

Gender budgeting is increasingly prominent in public finance management at all levels of government. Almost half of OECD countries (15 out of 34 members) have introduced, plan to introduce, or are actively considering the introduction of gender budgeting. With Austria and Iceland having introduced legislation to support gender budgeting as part of constitutional reforms. With the UK following suit as the Scottish Government is the only devolved government in the UK to produce an Equality Statement as part of the Scottish Budget process, and has done so since 2009. 

Why is the case for gender budgeting so important? We must ensure that the raising and spending of public resources does not aggravate existing inequalities or result in unequal and unfair outcomes for different people. Gender budgeting will create more effective targeting of public resources that results in improved outcomes from public policy decisions and resource allocations. 

Public authorities across the UK should be looking into ways in which public finance professionals and organisational processes can include gender analysis. The OECD lists gender responsive budgeting as one of the key tools for implementing gender equality. With ongoing reforms to public services, developing practice in policy and financial scrutiny, and advances in outcomes-based policy making and resource allocation are among the ways that public administration organisations can integrate gender analysis in their decision making. 

Gender budgeting is a question both of social and economic justice, and of more effective public resource management. By improving our understanding of the structures that contribute to different experiences for women and men, and the unequal social and economic outcomes that they create, policy making, and the allocation of public resources can be transformed to re-orientate outcomes more equally. 

Gender budgeting may at first seem to be a collision of two different worlds – public finance and social justice. Ultimately, public revenue and spending is about the common good. Gender budgeting is an approach to public finance management that seeks to reveal persistent and enduring inequalities so that public resources can be directed to best effect to eliminate those inequalities.

CIPFA’s latest thought piece Gender Budgeting for Public Finance argues against making an assumption that budgets are gender neutral. It can be downloaded here

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