Improved measures and data are essential in supporting better gender responsive decisions for budgeting


by Alan Bermingham, Policy and Technical Manager, Central and Devolved Government.

Gender budgeting is gaining some momentum internationally. Just recently CIPFA also recently published an insight on the subject of gender budgeting for public finance and; public finance international recently reported on how the government of the Ukraine has signed into law gender responsive budgeting – and they are not alone. Austria and Iceland have also introduced legislation to support gender budgeting as part of constitutional reforms. It is reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that almost half of OECD countries have introduced, plan to introduce, or are actively considering gender budgeting, which means increasingly national and regional agencies will have to analyse their funding allocations from a gender perspective.

This doesn’t create a divide and a need for separate budgets for men and women. The government needs to recognise and understand the different impacts of policy and funding allocations on the realities of women and men’s lives. This is important in the context of having established gender norms in society irrespective of whether they are right or wrong. These norms exist in child care, certain employment areas and other areas that impact on the different average economic status that men and women have.

Gender responsive budgeting plays a role in considering what impact tax raising and spending allocations will have on key areas such as welfare, health, education and transport, all of which can be considered gendered issues. For example, if we know that the majority of income tax paid comes from men in employment and women are the majority of people in unpaid parenting and care roles, this will impact on future state pension entitlements.

While we might consider the budget for state pension’s gender neutral, it is in fact gender blind. A gender responsive budget analysis would want to consider the impact of current pension’s policy and how this might become more gender equal through other interventions or policy changes over time.  It’s worth remembering that many decisions like this are currently made by men in position of political or civic society leadership.  

So what needs to change? We need improved measures and data which support better gender responsive decisions. For example, when policy makers are looking at areas such as pensions, they may look at data on the formal labour market and those areas contributing to overall GDP. What we don’t often consider is the how much the unpaid economy is worth, such as child rearing and unpaid care, in support of that economy. The Office of National Statistics estimated that the Gross Value Added (a measure of economic output, measuring the contribution of a sub-section, municipality or entity towards the overall economy) from this type of work amounted to over £1tn in 2014.[1]

Gender responsive budgeting involves many different actions from government, civil society, government agencies and delivery bodies. The government in particularly should be ensuring those responsible for budgets and budgeting have the capacity to implement gender responsive processes. They also need to collect and publish the relevant gender measures and statistics. They will need to build better mechanisms to ensure that civil society can fully engage with government in building this overall capacity.

Some might argue that through the public sector equality duty contained within the Equality Act 2010 we already have a method to ensure public bodies mitigate and eliminate inequality. We do conduct equality impact assessments of programmes and particular policies currently to ensure they don’t discriminate against disadvantaged people. However, anecdotal evidence would suggest this is sporadic and we know gender inequality still exists. I would suggest that we as public finance professionals need to raise our conscious efforts and capacity to ensure decisions and resource allocations affecting citizens are more gender aware.

This article first appeared in The Accountant.

[1] ONS – National Accounts – Household Satellite Accounts chapter 1, April 2016.

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