Budget will ‘entrench income inequalities’ between sexes, National Women’s Council warns

Budget 2023: Childcare and contraception investment welcomed but council says one-off payments will not protect women from poverty

Tuesday’s budget is “hugely disappointing” for the poorest children, provides no indication of a long-term plan to tackle poverty and will “further entrench income inequalities” between men and women, the National Women’s Council (NWC) warns.

In its post-budget analysis, to be published on Sunday, the council says the €12 increase in core social welfare rates, including State pensions, will mean an income drop in real terms for the poorest households and the working poor.

It says: “Budget 2023 includes many positive developments, including structural investment in childcare to reduce childcare costs and in women’s health.

“The NWC also welcomes the one-off payments which will help to support women and families through this cost-of-living crisis this winter. However, an over-reliance on one-off payments will not protect women from poverty and income inequality in the long term,” it says.


High fees

Describing significant increase in investment in childcare as a “breakthrough”, it says fees have been so high that even with this, costs will still “leave many parents paying extraordinarily high fees”.

It “strongly welcomes” the extension of free contraception to women aged 16 to 30 but calls for it to be further extended to older women and younger girls – especially those from marginalised backgrounds.

“While the €12 increase to core social welfare payments… will benefit lone parents, carers, Travellers, disabled women and older women, NWC is disappointed that this will mean a real drop of 8.1 per cent in the pension… and of 6.7 per cent in working-age payments between 2021 and 2023.

“An increase of only €2 in the qualified child [payment] is hugely disappointing. Government also failed to increase the working family payment (WFP) beyond the one-off payment [of €500]. It is well-established that the qualified child payment and WFP are the most effective way of addressing poverty, and are particularly important supports for lone parents,” says the analysis.

‘Pathway’ missing

The one-off payments to most welfare recipients of between €200 and €500 before Christmas “will be welcome”. However “what is missing in Budget 2023 is a clear pathway to address income adequacy in the long term and the already high levels of poverty experienced by many women, such as lone parents, disabled women and Traveller and Roma women”.

The council is “disappointed” Government did not increase the national minimum wage beyond the 80 cent per hour – to €11.30 – recommended by the Low Pay Commission. This is “too low” says the council and is “at least €1.60 below the living wage” of €12.90.

Turning to “key tax changes”, the council says the increase in the standard rate cut-off point by €3,200 to €40,000 annually would “further entrench income inequalities experienced by women” as they predominate in low-pay sectors where wages were too low to benefit.

“Unlike the one-off cost-of-living payments, this is also a permanent measure. This measure also has a hidden regressive cost in that it reduces the resources available to Government, in 2023 and beyond, to spend on essential public services that can help to address inequalities. It represents a further hollowing out of the tax base,” says the council.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times