Posted on October 16, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Although the season of kite flying and rumour that traditionally heralds Budget day was notably shorter this year, the days before the budget remained an anxious time for many vulnerable groups in Irish society. What emerged when Minster’s Howlin and Noonan took to their feet today to deliver their Budget speeches was something of a mixed bag for women and families in Ireland and Labour Women will be taking time to analyse the measures in detail over the coming days.
Labour Women welcomes the maintenance of current levels of child benefit payments. Labour Women strongly support the universal nature of child benefit and lobbied for it to be protected as such when we made our pre-budget submission to the Parliamentary Labour Party before the summer break.
Without a doubt the provision of free GP care to five year olds and under is a welcome development. For many families and for struggling lone parent families in particular, a visit to the doctor for a sick child can push already tight household budgets to the limit. For some families a visit to the GP can eat in to money for food, heating and other basic necessities. Minister Howlin has indicated that this is the first step towards universal free GP care, a significant step towards ensuring basic health care is a right for all and eroding the decade’s long trend of basing access to health on means rather than need.
Measures to stimulate job creation are extremely welcome. In particular, measures which increase employment in industries, which traditionally employ women, are very positive. Some 80% of those employed in health and 85% of those employed in education are women and an additional 1,250 jobs in these sectors will improve women’s participation in skilled, well-paid employment. Notably however the bulk of economic stimulus measures remain in the area of construction, which is a traditionally male dominated industry. We call on the government to remain mindful of the gender balance in industry to ensure that women benefit equally from job creation initiatives.
The most striking measure in Budget 2014 for women is likely to be the adjustments in maternity benefit. The rate of maternity benefit is being standardised to €230 a week. Which is an increase for those who would be entitled to the lower rate of €217.80 and a decrease for those who would have been entitled to the higher rate of €262 per week.The reality is that the majority of women taking maternity leave in 2014 will see their rate of maternity benefit fall. This, combined with last year’s tax measures on maternity benefit, which saw a 58 euro per week reduction in net income for a married couple with a combined income of 80,000 euro will see women loose some €80 euro per week. For women who are often in precarious, low paid or part time employment this additional burden comes at a time when many new parents are already stretched to the limit. Labour Women will be engaging with the Parliamentary Party over the coming days and weeks on this issue to ensure that the Budget does not unfairly target women.
Overall, one of the issues that struck me most while watching the Budget was once again how few women’s voices are heard at the cabinet table and in the economic management council, which is responsible for much of the budgetary process. We cannot ensure that women’s interests are protected until we have equal representation at the decision making table and more women with their hands on the keys to the corridors of power.
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