Budget 2022 was going to be a critical one in the context of a global pandemic which unfortunately highlights major gender inequalities in this country. The importance of care work and the fact that it is widely undertaken by women who are poorly paid and undervalued was brought to the fore.
Working mothers shouldered most of the family caregiving responsibilities in the face of a childcare system that is wholly insufficient in a society where most parents work outside the home. Disruptions to schooling and childcare have been hard on working fathers too, but evidence shows that working mothers took on most of the childcare responsibilities and frequently had to either reduce their hours or even leave their jobs entirely. The housing and homeless crisis is also having a devastating impact on women, and we now have one of the highest rates of female homelessness in the EU.
Let’s examine what the budget achieved in terms of improved supports to women in our roles as carers, parents, and financial providers. The €4.7 billion expenditure will have positive effects on women from childcare enhancements to healthcare to personal finance.
Let’s take childcare first, we need to give the government credit where it is due by stating that this was a “family-friendly budget”. The National Childcare Scheme Universal Subsidy is being extended to all children up to Age 15 and Parentals Benefit will increase by 2 weeks from 2022. Maternity and Parental leave payments were also increased by €5 per week.
The Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance increased by €10. Improvements in the quality of childcare will be greatly aided by a new funding stream for up to 4,700 early years from September 2022. Free GP care for children up to the age of 7. An increase of €10 in the income threshold for the working family payment. Qualified child payment will increase by €2 for under-12s, and €3 for over-12s.
There will also be an extra 980 teachers and 1,165 Special Needs Assistants recruited in special education. An increase of €200 in the Susi grant will be welcomed by third-level students. In terms of the Carers Allowance, there have been changes made to the income thresholds meaning a single person earning €350 per week and a couple earning €750 per week will still qualify.
A very welcome €13 million has been allocated to help tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Expenditure on a women’s health package has been quadrupled to €20 million which will cover free contraception for women aged 17-25 and a free period product campaign.
In terms of Personal Finances, changes in taxation include an increase in the standard rate tax band by €1,500 and in each of the personal, employee and earned income credits by €50. The ceiling of the second-rate band of the Universal Social Charge was increased by €608. Those working remotely will see an income tax deduction of 30% on the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband.
As regards housing, €174 million has been allocated for the delivery of 4,000 affordable homes next year and the Help-to-buy scheme will continue throughout 2022.
I’m sure that long-enduring gender-based disparities in terms of wage inequality were the last thing on the Government's mind when it came to Budget 2022, and a possible solution to this will be a much bigger undertaking.
However, I feel that the measures announced have gone some way in terms of recognising and rewarding women’s participation in the workforce and marginally improving the basic living standards of the working mothers of Ireland.