Why it’s important to talk about gender budgeting

18 Oct 18

Glasgow Caledonian University’s senior equalities lecturer Angela O’Hagan talks about why gender budgeting was discussed at CIPFA’s Northern Ireland Conference last week. 

gender pay gap


“Many disparities and inequalities between the sexes have become embedded, to a greater or lesser extent, in the baseline of public policies and the allocation of public resources”. This is according to an OECD report on gender budgeting last year.  

This realisation that gender inequalities are enmeshed in institutional practices, including budgetary processes, is one of the main reasons to talk about gender and public finance and public policy.

Gender budgeting - whereby the realities of women and men’s lives, and the impacts on these realities, positive and negative, are revealed and analysed - offers an approach to policy making and public finance management that supports the shift to outcomes-based policy making and budgeting across public administration. 

Examining the effects of resource allocation and policy decisions is an essential component underpinning an outcomes-based approach. 

If public policy decisions, and the resourcing and revenue decisions underpinning them, seek to improve the status quo, then public finance managers need to understand the diverse realities of people’s lives and the effects of gender, race, disability, age, and other characteristics that structure people’s experiences of the public services, spaces and institutions that they seek to use.

In Women Count, a new publication by the Women’s Budget Group, gender budgeting is described as a tool to assess the impact of public administration budgets and economic policies on inequalities between women and men in order to lead to policy change. 

Gender budgeting is not about having separate budgets for women, nor does it mean dividing expenditure equally between women and men, because that doesn’t necessarily result in reducing inequalities. 

‘Taking a gender analysis approach to revenue raising and resource allocation helps improve our understanding of how decisions affect women and men differently because of their different experiences in family and household structures, paid employment and unpaid work, caring and provisioning for others.’

Taking a gender analysis approach to revenue raising and resource allocation helps improve our understanding of how decisions affect women and men differently because of their different experiences in family and household structures, paid employment and unpaid work, caring and provisioning for others. 

These different experiences stem from well-establish gendered norms and assumptions about women and men, including as workers and the kinds of jobs women and men do, traditional assumptions about parenting and caring. 

These dimensions have an effect on our economic status as earners, taxpayers, and the types of social security and other publicly funded income we receive. 

By this argument, tax and revenue, spend on social security, education, health, public services and infrastructure including transport and care facilities, are all gendered issues. 

The impacts of recent changes in taxation and social security reveal the highly unequal and damaging effects on women’s income, particularly women on colour. 

Analysis from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the House of Commons Library, the Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust all consistently show the impact and cumulate effective of cuts and changes in social security on the poorest households. 

The poorest 20% of people have seen a 15% drop in living standards since 2010. Black and Asian families have experienced an even greater decline in living standards. 

By 2020 the poorest black families are set to lose £8,400 every year in tax and benefit changes and loss of services and Asian families are set to lose £11,600. 

WBG analysis shows that Of the £59bn cumulative cuts in social security since 2010, 57% will have come from women’s purses.

These come on top of tax changes that have benefited women less. 

Similar analysis by the House of Commons Library concluded that women would have contributed up to 86% of the cumulative cuts.

Looking at the example of publicly funded vocational training gives a good insight into what an examination of resource allocation reveals by way of gendered outcomes. 

Higher costs and longer periods in training tend to characterise the skills frameworks such as plumbing, construction and other trades where men tend to predominate. 

The skills areas where women predominate in social care, childcare, hairdressing, and customer services have lower training costs for shorter periods. 

This means that significant amounts of public money have traditionally been allocated to public policies that unintentionally reinforce segregated labour markets and occupational clusters and lower pay for women in the jobs where they are in the majority. 

When looked at from an equality outcomes perspective and from the view of improving outcomes for all from public spending, the in-built inequities in the Modern Apprenticeship programme clash with the direction of public sector management. 

That’s why, in Scotland at least, significant efforts have been made to address the gendered representation in different skills frameworks, and the under-representation of disabled people and black and minority ethnic people in modern apprenticeships.

Gender budget analysis then 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. 

CIPFA’s Northern Ireland Conference was held at Stormont Hotel, Belfast, on Thursday last week.

  • Angela O'Hagan
    Angela O’Hagan

    senior Lecturer in equalities and public policy at Glasgow Caledonian University and Deputy Director of the WISE Centre for Economic and Social Justice. 

    She is also the independent chair of the equality and budgets advisory group of the Scottish Government and a member of the UK and Scottish Women’s Budget Groups.

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