Married or co-habiting women 'hit harder by austerity'
ESRI research shows changes to tax and welfare code were not gender neutral
Within couples, women experienced sharper falls in disposable income than men across all income groups, according to an ESRI report. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Women who are married or co-habiting have been hit significantly harder by Government austerity policies than their male counterparts, new research shows.
The study, carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute on behalf of the Equality Authority, assessed the impact of tax, welfare and public sector pay changes on men and women between 2009 and 2013.
Within couples, women experienced sharper falls in disposable income than men across all income groups - on average about 14 per cent for women as against 9 per cent for men.
A key driver of the differential was the reduction in child benefit, usually received by mothers, which was cut by 25 per cent during the five-year period.
Nonetheless, even when the benefit was removed from the analysis, women still suffered disproportionately from the adjustments made to tax, welfare and public sector pay during the recession.
This is because a higher proportion of women work in the public sector and because they are more likely to be receiving benefits such as the carer’s allowance.
The study did not assess how the income differentials affected living standards, as this is dependent on the degree to which couples pool their incomes.
Nor did it take into account other recessionary phenomena, which the Government had no direct control over, such as job losses and private sector pay cuts.
Nonetheless, the ESRI suggests that while the State’s tax and welfare systems do not intend to discriminate on the basis of gender, budgetary changes affect men and women differently because of gender differences in patterns of employment, wages and benefit receipts.
To conduct its study, the ESRI developed, what it called, a Microsimulation Method for Equality Analysis, which the Equality Authority wants the Government to use to gender proof future budgetary measures.
The research found that for single women and men of working age the impact of the Government’s austerity drive - which combined public-sector pay cuts as well as tax and welfare changes - was broadly similar, with average losses in disposable income of close to 10 per cent.
Conversely, it found single people of retirement age suffered losses of only 5 per cent. Similarly, while couples of working age saw their combined income drop by 12 per cent on average, retired couples lost just over 4 per cent.
These age-related differences were explained by the fact that social welfare rates for those over 65 were not cut in 2010 unlike those paid to people under 65.
Dr Claire Keane of the ESRI said: “Policy changes have imposed similar income losses on single women and single men. Within couples, however, losses have been sharper for women than men, especially for poorer income groups.”
“If couples share their income fully this may have limited impact; but otherwise the greater losses for women in couples may have an effect on bargaining power and welfare within couples”.
She said although the approach focused on the distributional effect of Budgets 2009-2013, it could be used to examine the gender impact of future policy initiatives.
Ms Orlagh O’Farrell, acting chairperson of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said: “To promote equality in practice between men and women we need to challenge assumptions of gender neutrality in public policy. This report confirms the need for the systematic ‘gender proofing’ of budget policy.”