Equality Budgeting: Discussion with the National Women's Council of Ireland

I welcome Ms Niamh Allen, head of development, and Ms Camille Loftus, social policy researcher and analyst, National Women's Council of Ireland. They both will talk about equality budgeting.

Before we begin, I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones. The interference from mobile phones affects the sound quality and transmission of the meeting.

Witnesses are reminded that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence that they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Ms Allen to make her opening statement.

Ms Niamh Allen

I am the head of development at the National Women's Council of Ireland. I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Camille Loftus, who is a researcher and social policy analyst. She has been commissioned by the council to carry out an important piece of research on gender budgeting and how to apply it to the Irish budgetary process. As many members will know, the NWCI is the leading representative women's organisation in this country. We have just over 180 member organisations. Our mission is to achieve full equality between women and men. I thank the committee and the Chairman, in particular, for facilitating our presence this afternoon to give this presentation at what we believe is a critical juncture to progress the work of gender budgeting in this country.

Earlier the committee heard from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It has provided funding to NWCI to carry out the research that Ms Loftus is working on. The project involves bringing together key practitioners and experts from Ireland and internationally to set out a roadmap to progress the implementation of the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to gender and equality proof the budgetary process in this country. The research will develop of model of gender budgeting for Ireland. We will learn from best practice in other jurisdictions with comparative budgetary and policy decision-making processes. We will publish the results in September. Ms Loftus will talk about this matter latter in the presentation. We will also publish a suite of materials that will outline in straightforward language the why, what and how of gender budgeting and how it can be applied here. This programme of work will place the NWCI in a unique position in terms of offering guidance, advice and support to key institutions, including this committee, in how best to drive progress on this front.

Before we move on to the what and how of gender budgeting it is worth giving a brief reminder of the why. Members will be familiar with some of the statistics but it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that it has been well established that the recent period of austerity impacted disproportionately borne on the shoulders of women, in particular certain groups of women such as lone parents and older women. The gender pay gap has widened from 12.6% in 2006 to 14.4% in 2012 and the gender pension gap has widened from 35% in 2010 to 37% in 2012.

The Department of Social Protection's social impact assessment of the main welfare and direct tax measures in budget 2015 found that the smallest gain was in the bottom quintile. In the 2011 TASC produced a report entitled Winners and Losers?, which set out equality findings in respect of budget 2012. It confirmed that women are concentrated in the lower income groups and it found that changes to taxes and social welfare issues that disproportionately impact on low-income groups can also be expected to disproportionately impact on women. The Central Statistics Office produces research entitled the Survey on Income and Living Conditions. The SILC figures continue to find that lone parents, the vast majority of whom are women, experience disproportionate levels of deprivation.

The NWCI believes that a more equal society is not an aspirational idea that might eventually be achieved through the overspill of a trickle down economy, rather it is the core foundation upon which a sustainable economy must be built. In order to achieve equality we must act purposefully. It requires weighing the benefits and costs of policies that would or could promote women's equality and then, very importantly, taking action in response to that evaluation. Two types of action are required. First, the dedication of public expenditure to explicit gender equality objectives and women’s advancement. For example, establishing child care provision as a form of capital and social infrastructure. Second, expenditure that can be seen as contributing to gender equality more broadly such as gender sensitive pension reform, changes to taxation, some forms of social transfers and investments in labour market activation initiatives.

Ireland's budgetary process has long been criticised for its opaque and complex nature. Recent reform aimed at providing for greater parliamentary participation and transparency is welcome. The emphasis on evidence-based expenditure policies and performance-based budget approaches, adopted by Ireland in 2012, lend themselves to a more rigorous process. The adoption and implementation of gender and equality budgeting processes aligns neatly with these developments. Gender budgeting involves two key elements. First, changes to fiscal policy or the structure of fiscal policies and, second, administrative changes to expenditure tracking and monitoring systems. Dr. Janet Stotsky is the leading international expert in this area and according to her the most successful efforts encompass both of these elements.

Gender budgeting does not bind the Government to any particular budget decision, but rather makes it easier for Parliament and its many institutions, including this committee, and indeed for the public to evaluate the budget and its impact. I will give a quick example of the affordable child care scheme, which in many ways marks a radical change in policy. If retained and resourced appropriately, this scheme will have long-term positive effects on women's economic equality, both for mothers and for child care professionals, the majority of whom are women. It is a clear example of a fiscal policy change that should stand up well to gender impact assessment processes. With the appropriate administrative changes to tracking and monitoring, those assessing and making the budget can establish whether women’s effective equality has been improved and decide whether to invest, and in which direction. Other jurisdictions, like Austria, for instance, have moved to adopt results-based budgeting, focusing on outputs and outcomes and not just on the inputs. This surely sits comfortably with the reform objectives of Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Equally, the medium-term framework provides a more conducive environment to the results-based gender budgeting model, as a multi-annual approach is required if we are to look at the achievement of equality-oriented goals.

The unit of assessment is integral to this work. The traditional notion of the household unit as only having one set of interests is very much outdated. Gender impact assessments must recognise a diversity of interests, reflecting that women and men respond differently to fiscal policies and other features of the economic environment and that economic policies may have different effects on different members of the same household.

I will now hand over to my colleague, Ms Camille Loftus. She will give an overview of what she has found through her research to be the appropriate steps this committee could take to progress this work in the coming months.

Ms Camille Loftus

I would first like to clarify to members that they would have received a more detailed submission from us here today had I not been suffering from the flu for the last week. I will take detailed note of any questions members might have here today and we are more than happy to follow up today's meeting with more detail, should that be useful.

When we look at the statistics from the past few years that Ms Allen has just outlined for us, one thing that becomes very clear is how issues of inequality intersect. When we look at issues of gender inequality, we are also looking at issues on how to effectively tackle poverty. Recognising how these issues intersect with one other, the different impact on married and single women as opposed to married and single men, for example, is an important dynamic in putting together a successful approach in this regard. Ms Allen also mentioned that gender and equality budgeting is a good way to go because it is the right thing to do to ensure that everybody gets to participate to the best extent they can. What we can now see, however, is that international institutions are very much rolling in behind gender and equality budgeting as a key component of growth strategies. The IMF and the World Bank, for example, have both rolled in behind this as a way of amplifying countries' growth. In 2015, the McKinsey Global Institute produced a study in which it was estimated that were one to look at this on a regional basis and ask every country to match the performance of the best in that region, $12 trillion could be added to annual GDP, that is, about the same as the current GDP of Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom combined. Gender budgeting is not only the right thing to do; it also feeds economic growth. These are mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive objectives.

There is no doubt but that fully implementing a comprehensive model of gender and equality budgeting is a complex and difficult thing to do and it will take us a few years to bring it to full expression. Austria provides us with a useful example in this regard and number of aspects to the Austrian approach are worth highlighting. One is the fact that Austria introduced gender and equality budgeting within the context of a broader suite of reforms to the budgetary process. This is exactly our aspiration here. Reviews of gender budgeting over the past 15 years have identified that integration is an important aspect to success. Austria moved to a performance-managed system of budgeting, just as we are doing now, and named gender equality as one of its five chapters within that. It has been given an explicit role and function within the budget process and is one of two constitutionally-mandated principles embedded in core budget legislation in Austria. One example to emerge from the implementation of a gender budgeting process in Austria was the reduction of the effective tax rate for second earners in a household. We have known for a long time that second earners are very responsive to financial incentives, that they are the people facing some of the highest financial incentives in Ireland and that they are predominantly women. A measure like this helps women who want to get back into the labour market to do so. This, in turn, fuels growth.

Looking at the broader suite of gender budgeting approaches implemented in Europe, a number of things could help this committee make an impact and advance the process. One approach applied in Austria and in many other countries with successful gender budgeting processes is the use of an equality budget statement as a core element in the overall suite of budget documentation. Such a statement brings together the equality priorities of each Department into one comprehensive document. This would be of considerable value to the committee itself in its carrying out of its oversight role. I understand the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has already written to all of the line Departments to request that they provide such priorities. This committee might like to engage with the other sectoral committees on a matter like this, focusing on particular policy areas so as to draw out the key gender equality priorities for the forthcoming budget. Such a statement would also provide a good metric against which we can assess progress or otherwise. It would be a clear statement of what it is that we are trying to do, an allocation of a range of resources around that and a better metric for assessing success or lack thereof.

Unfortunately, I understand that the Oireachtas budget office has not yet been established and is thus unlikely to have an input into the budget process this year.

We have a woman on the job.

We do, yes. She was appointed as director today, actually.

Ms Camille Loftus

Just today? That is excellent news.

That office will be up and running soon.

Ms Camille Loftus

It will, but I imagine that it is too late in the process for the office to have a significant impact this time around. Looking at what has worked elsewhere, however, it is important that institutions like parliamentary budgetary offices take on responsibility for ensuring that equality and gender proofing is put in place in a comprehensive fashion. This should form part of such an institution's overall costing and impact assessment exercises with regard to any policy measure. It is important that this new Oireachtas budget office have the capacity to analyse on both the basis of gender and on other grounds of inequality in order that we can capture the intersectional dynamics.

It is surprising that we are still struggling with data this far on in the evolution of gender budgeting. There are many areas in which data remain an issue. Speaking as something of a nerd, I am very impressed with the data bank that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has produced. There is a volume of data available on that database now that was never there before. It is not, however, presented on a gender-disaggregated basis, which is something we should now be doing as a matter of routine. The data are all there but they are just not being produced. This committee's job in providing oversight for the budgetary process and in making an assessment as to whether it has been effectively proofed in respect of gender and equality will be much easier with access to data and much harder without. This is an important priority.

For quite some time now, we have had at our disposal modelling programmes such as SWITCH that can tell us where the costs and benefits of a particular measure are distributed. We also now have modelling capacities to look forward to project the kind of impact that a measure might have on growth in the future.

We can look at the dynamic impacts of a policy rather than just the static, first round effects. I cited the McKinsey work because that is what they are doing. They can say that if we did certain things we would add a certain amount to growth. They are beginning to have this capacity within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the committee could certainly have a role in ensuring this type of analysis is done in order that we will know exactly what kind of impact we could expect to see.

It is critically important to engage with people who will be affected by the measures. It is very challenging for a parliamentary committee to manage this but gender and equality budgeting works when there is a facility for people who will be directly affected by the measures to make some feedback into the process. We will specify this in more detail in our model when the work is completed. It is important as there is a realm of expertise that is not generally available within the bureaucratic system but which would be of great impact to the committee in assessing the impact of gender inequality budgeting.

I will let Deputy Boyd Barrett in shortly as he has to go at 3.30 p.m. Are we at a critical juncture at this point? Why is that the case now? I asked the commission, whose representatives were before the committee earlier, the same question. Is the National Women's Council going to conduct its own review of the budget in the context of its own ambitions?

Ms Niamh Allen

We are at a critical juncture at the moment. We have been meeting the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and we have been through the negotiating process around the new national strategy for women and girls. There is an appetite and a willingness to take this work on in a genuine and meaningful way across Departments, in particular, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We feel that our model will contribute greatly to the progress of that work and we want to build on the momentum.

Did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform write to the committees or to other Departments?

Ms Niamh Allen

It was to the other Departments.

That is positive.

Ms Camille Loftus

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform held a workshop on this a couple of weeks ago with civil servants in various Departments and people such as ourselves, and it was a positive experience. People are working and thinking hard about how to do it. It is so important now because we are only at the beginning of rolling out the process of reform of the budgetary process. If we can build capacity into the system from the very beginning, we will have done it efficiently and maximised the gains to be got from the reform process. If decisions are made now which mean the capacity to deliver equality budgeting is not there, it will take a long time to undo this and build the capacity back in.

I thank the National Women's Council for their contributions. I have a question about the relationship between the micro and macro in assessing budgets, making recommendations or scrutinising and proofing things. It is one thing to look at a particular measure and ask if it impacts negatively, positively or not at all on the level of gender equality or some other index, but a more comprehensive proofing might look at the macro consequence of making particular choices. If there is €350 million of fiscal space and the Government decides, following the intersectionality argument, to give a big chunk of it to tax breaks for women CEOs in multinational companies, as against spending it on employing people in the health service which would be more likely to impact on employment opportunities for women workers, would the National Women's Council see it is part of its equality-proofing role to assess the relative impact of one choice over the other in those terms?

Ms Camille Loftus

It is very much the type of thing the McKinsey report points to. The name of the computer modelling system in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform escapes me but it is exactly the type of thing it can do. It can assess the immediate first round micro impact for women of reducing the effective tax rate by 2% but it can also project forward and take account of the dynamic effects as the policy filters out and changes patterns of behaviour, etc. We will then be in a position to say that not only will it contribute to greater gender equality, but it will also increase the size of our fiscal space. These are mutually reinforcing objectives. It is very important for this committee to get a really good equality statement because it is very difficult for the committee to have complete gender oversight on all areas, such as transport, communications, social protection, etc. The committee needs some lens that will allow it to ask the Departments all the right questions. The equality statement will allow the committee to determine the first round effects, the second round effects and the bigger picture to enable it to make a recommendation.

This is a very worthwhile exercise and the most important thing will be inviting the witnesses back after the budget to discuss what road we are on. This is a new exercise for all of us. Are married women who work in the home being represented in submissions or in people's thoughts? This is an issue for many people, a silent group which does not really have any spokespeople. The marriage unit, a husband and wife or two partners, deserve some attention. In 1981, Dr. Garret FitzGerald decided he wanted to introduce an allowance for a married woman in the home, which amounted to £9.50 per week. It fell by the wayside but it was an attempt to recognise the role of people in different types of work. We need to be conscious of everyone - the doctor, the salesperson behind a counter and those minding children in the home. It is our responsibility as politicians to do that and I recognise that the witnesses also represent certain people.

However, it is important that we look at this because it is a new exercise. Previously, one went to the Department of Finance, made one's case, went off and waited for budget day and there was nothing one could do about it. However, if this new exercise is to become really meaningful and not a waste of the time of the National Women's Council of Ireland and everyone else, there should be some feedback. What is most important is that we consider where we are after, as well as before, the budget.

The Deputy is suggesting a review of what is contained in the budget.

Yes. In other words, we should ask what our aims are in, say, the area of equality, whether we have moved at all in that direction and whether we have left out some groups. That is the exercise I would like to see take place, with the involvement of the likes of the delegates and the committee. The work and role of the committee should be ongoing, not necessarily for just one budget, after which we all sit back and wait another six months before starting to talk about the next budget. I would like to hear the views of the delegates on this suggestion. We can put on paper what we would really like to see in a budget, which is grand, but it should be part of a process which should not only involve politicians. Very few politicians are involved in it because it is the Government, the Cabinet, that ultimately makes the decisions. If we are genuinely to take views on board, it is important that we have this two-way process before and after the budget.

Ms Allen and Ms Loftus mentioned Austria in some detail. Are they aware of any other jurisdiction in which there has been this budget process? If so, that might be useful information for us to know.

Ms Camille Loftus

Yes. I can follow up with a little more detail. Apart from the Scandinavian countries which are the obvious examples, Andalucia is another particularly strong example, but its budgetary process is slightly different from ours and it has taken a slightly different approach. Our aim in the research project is to pick the best elements from each example and fit them into our own process as closely as we can.

Ms Niamh Allen

Scotland is also a particularly good example. We have built very strong relationships with key people in the Scottish Parliament and civil society organisations in Scotland. I know Emma Ritch of Engender, an equality organisation, which has been heavily involved in embedding this process into the Scottish budgetary process. She was here recently to speak to the women's caucus about Engender's work on gender budgeting and will be back again quite soon. There is, therefore, always the possibility of bringing an expert from Scotland, Austria or Andalucia before the committee.

I am sorry; I did not mean to steal Deputy Seán Barrett's question.

That is fine. I am happy-----

The delegates might address the Deputy's questions. I apologise.

Ms Camille Loftus

Having worked with the National Women's Council of Ireland for many years, I know and we are confident that women, in all their diversity, are represented by the council. Nonetheless, Deputy Seán Barrett raises a very important question in that regard because, obviously, women, no more than men, are not a homogenous group. This speaks to the importance of being able to examine how these issues cross-cut and affect people in different ways. A fully developed equality analysis would take account of these factors.

The Deputy hit on a very big issue, namely, the provision of unpaid care. Personally, I do not think any developed country has yet mastered this dynamic, but it is probably one of the most important questions we must answer into the future. We are all living longer, but we are likely to need support and care for longer periods throughout our lives. In fact, I was just reviewing research on low-income families and care. One of the things that comes thorugh very strongly is that it is not a question of either-or. People are sometimes invested in providing very high levels of full-time care to the exclusion of any other activity. For some, it may be less: they may be combining care with other part-time work. There may be a period in which care is not needed, but a parent may then become infirm and one may have to step back into that space. Therefore, when we think about care, I always caution that it is not about two boxes, that it is not a question of one and the other. As people move between providing these levels of care all the time, we must be very live to these dynamics. A good gender analysis should show this and give answers to these questions or at least allow for their consideration in some regard.

The second point I make is that this is the real value of having an equality statement. Post the budget, members all want to be able to ask what progress was made, what the budget did and what was accomplished in it. A good review across government should be ensured from an equality perspective to the effect that each Department or sector should be able to state what it sees as a priority. It struck me that the sectoral committees of the Oireachtas might want to state what they thought the equality priorities should be in the areas of children and youth affairs, health, education and housing. That would be a good metric because they are the ones involved in dealing with these issues day in, day out. One of the most challenging aspects of gender budgeting is the need to bring together two sets of expertise. This goes to the heart of the Chairman's point about why this is important. We need to find ways to integrate the two sets of expertise early in the process. There are people with expertise who understand gender and the equality dynamics and there are a bunch of others who engage in budgeting. These two elements need to be knitted well together. That is where the equality statement will be of assistance to the committee in integrating the expertise of, say, sectoral committees and line Departments in the specific policy areas with the equality priorities that should come from the process.

That is very interesting. Perhaps the delgates might expand on their thoughts in this area. I have five children and my wife worked in the home. We are now looking after grandchildren. It is a new and very important cycle. People's roles in this regard are totally undervalued and under-appreciated. Just because someone does not put on his or her coat and go to an office or wherever else to work does not mean that his or her work should not be appreciated. There is movement and very valuable and responsible work being done by people who are maintaining the image of working in the home. Of course, if women wish to pursue a career, I do not have a problem with that, but there are others who prefer to work in the home and they are a tremendous asset that could be used far better and encouraged by us as politicians.

Ms Camille Loftus

I wish to mention very briefly in that context the pension gap between women and men, to which Ms Allen alluded in the statistics she gave. It is one thing to make a choice to stay at home rather than engage in a career, but it is another to find oneself paying for that choice again at pension time. It is a double penalty. One thing that is being considered is meshing together or integrating the USC and PRSI systems. That presents an opportunity within the broader social insurance system, in which care work has been seen as an exception that is tagged on rather than as something built that is into it from the very beginning. It would be an opportunity, particularly for people of the Deputy's wife's generation, for whom full-time work in the home was a much more prominent experience, but these women do pay for it at pension time.

I am conscious that Deputy Eamon Ryan also wishes to ask a few questions.

I am very interested in joining this conversation and very much welcome Ms Allen back to Leinster House. This is not just a question for the previous generation. I am slightly concerned that we all talk here about what the IMF, McKinsey and economic interests want and that we measure everything based on economic growth, as if that was the key measure of progress. There are other measures such as the nature of and other values in society. I have a terrible fear that everything we have done in recent years has perhaps accentuated the economic growth model rather than looking at other assessments. In addition, looking at the statistics, it does not seem that they necessarily match what people do. It is not a tiny minority who sometimes decide to work in the home but the very large bulk of Irish women and their connected parties.

We are all connected and a large bulk of Irish women and their partners seem to have been ignored and discriminated against in recent years. I would love to have heard the National Women's Council of Ireland representing their interests when, for example, in last year's budget they were pretty much ignored and given absolutely nothing, as if they did not count. It is on the back of previous years, where through individualisation and other measures, we have effectively stated to people, "Thou shalt get out to work, no matter what".

I have a fear that the witnesses cite Austria as an example. I had an interesting experience recently related to where this is coming from. Why is it that the European Union, the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and McKinsey and Company are espousing work all the time? It comes from central European countries where populations were declining and they were worried about migration. They had all sorts of different pressures and were worried their economy might sink as they got to full employment. Their answer was to get everyone working. It was official EU and OECD policy based on what was happening in Sweden, Germany and Austria because they had a falling population. All economic, labour and other market policies, coupled with a lack of support for caring, came from that driver. I must admit I am slightly disappointed or nervous to hear the women's council citing McKinsey, the €12 trillion value of economic growth and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, as the great signal of what we might want to do.

We must look after every woman in every circumstance and I am absolutely 100% in favour of equality in budgeting and ensuring we live in a truly equal society. We are leaving behind that massive cadre and restricting choice. We are having children older and later because everything is constrained by a person getting a job because the rent must be paid, or a house should be bought or the career must be maintained. It is all about economic growth. US Senator Elizabeth Warren brilliantly wrote about the two income trap, with people ending up in a really precarious position where they cannot afford not to work or get on the economic wheel. I am afraid that is what I heard today.

We are all on the hamster wheel.

Ms Niamh Allen

I will address a couple of those points before asking Ms Loftus to come in. With regard to the approach of the National Women's Council of Ireland to these issues, I know the Deputy probably referred to the introduction of the affordable child care scheme last year and the disappointment in us being so welcoming of that piece while people working in the home did not get the same recognition. I can understand that. The National Women's Council of Ireland represents women in all their diversity and it always has. It has a very long track record of advocating for women in unpaid caring roles. We continue to do that. We welcomed the affordable child care scheme last year as it is another piece of the jigsaw for which we have been advocating for a very long time. We have done it for a number of decades and it was very encouraging to see progress being made on that front. We absolutely recognise the value of women working in the home and in caring roles. I just wanted to state for the record that it is an incredibly important piece of work for the National Women's Council of Ireland and we will continue to do it in future.

Ms Camille Loftus

One of the reasons I raised the matter of the contribution that greater gender equality can make to growth is because it increases the fiscal space and the kind of investments we can choose how to spend. Do we want to invest more in education or health? It gives us more room for that. Coming from a perspective that is the opposite of the Deputy's, sometimes we get from the business side of the House that this does not have anything to do with important issues. I just wanted to make the point that these are not mutually exclusive or contradictory to one another and they can be mutually reinforcing.

There are two big challenges that we face in social policy in all developed countries. Labour markets are changing very rapidly and they do not provide the kind of security or jobs they used to and on which most welfare states and tax systems are based. The kind of job my dad did - he was the male breadwinner in our household - was a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. secure job that he worked at from when he left school until he retired. That does not exist any more, and I have had to explain that to the man on numerous occasions when he wonders why I do not have one of them. That is changing but we have systems designed around a labour market that does not exist any more.

The other dynamic that is changing is care. It is done by everybody in society and one of the very welcome developments we can see now is that when we look at the gender balance among those providing unpaid care for older people, it is less gender marked than would certainly have been the case in the past. It is less gender marked than is evident in the care of children. Everybody knows somebody in this position; they know a man providing care for an elderly mother, father or whatever. Care is an integral part of every social policy decision we need to make; it does not need to be done by women. What we really need to consider is how to integrate those elements into all our lives in a way that we are happy about.

I could not agree more. If more men were doing it, we might care more about care.

Ms Camille Loftus

Indeed.

We might care more about human space rather than fiscal space.

Ms Camille Loftus

That is right.

Ms Allen stated that the National Women's Council of Ireland is very keen to try to represent those people who, for a variety of reasons, want to concentrate on that caring role. As I stated, the individualised tax system very much discriminates against it. There are no two ways about that and in recent budgets we have not done anything about it. What would the council suggest for the 2018 budget that might support that choice for the people who are caring?

Ms Niamh Allen

I will come back to the Deputy on that as we are working on our pre-budget submission. It is an area on which we are working so I do not have an answer now. We can revert with a fleshed out proposal.

I would appreciate it if the witnesses could do that.

Ms Niamh Allen

Absolutely.

Ms Camille Loftus

The tax individualisation only affects married couples who earn enough to pay the higher rate. If two people are working but earning a low wage, tax individualisation does not have an impact. There was a relationship between the home carer's credit and what used to be called the PAYE credit. It is one of the dynamics that tends to take account of these matters. It is a credit and not affected by when the band kicks in so it gives a little extra help to lower income households than higher income households. It is certainly an element I would look to in order to manage out that sort of fiscal balance.

We must also remember that the child benefit is the highest in the EU, or certainly in terms of cash transfers. It is called child benefit but part of its evolution has been around the recognition of the work of rearing children in the home. It is not means-tested.

Research has been mentioned. Will the witnesses send the results to the committee as we would be very grateful to have it when it is ready?

Ms Camille Loftus

It may rely on it.

It has been very interesting and I look forward to the witnesses coming back after the budget, as well as before it.

That would be useful to the committee.

Ms Niamh Allen

We will be launching Ms Loftus's research on 21 September. We will send an invitation to committee members. We also hope to hold a high-level round-table discussion and the Minister for Finance has tentatively agreed to be there, along with key decision makers from a range of Departments. We would love it if some of the members of the committee could attend. It will be in early October but we do not have a set date just yet. We can pass it on when we do.

That is very helpful. I thank the witnesses for their contribution. It has been very interesting and it is great to have the opportunity to speak with them.

The select committee adjourned at 3.50 p.m. until 10.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20 July 2017.