Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Mac Lochlainn makes the demand for equality budgeting

2 July, 2013 - by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Sinn Féin Justice and Equality spokesperson Padraig Mac Lochlainn has moved the Equality Status (Amendment) Bill 2013 in the Dáil this evening.

The bill, if passed into law, would ensure equality proofing of annual budgets to assess the impact on sections of society that need enhanced protection from the state.

The following is Deputy Mac Lochlainn’s Dáil speech:

As an Irish Republican, equality is at the core of all that I believe in.

I believe in a new Republic, a republic where all citizens are equal, regardless of the colour of their skin, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientaion, where they live or what they do.
Today we are appealing to the government via this piece of legislation laid before the house to implement equality budgeting.

Creating the conditions for establishing an equal society means recognising that many diverse groups and sections of Irish society need enhanced protection from the State.

This Bill amends the existing legislation and aims to provide for equality proofing of government policy and budgets and public bodies through impact assessments. The Bill will ensure that both government and public bodies, in exercising their functions do so in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.

The Bill recognises those additional sectors of society who require enhanced protection from the State in relation to policy and spending decisions.

We all know that times are hard in the Ireland of 2013 but what some of us fail to recognise is just how difficult they are for some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

This government came into office on a wave of promises in 2011. Soon afterwards it became apparent that many of their plans involved taking from some of the most vulnerable.

* A study carried out by TASC revealed that the most at-risk group of poverty in Ireland, lone parents, lost the highest percentage of income in Budget 2011.

* Low income workers are disproportionately affected by austerity measures, such as the Universal Social Charge, which is a highly regressive tax coming into force at its highest level of 7% at just above the minimum wage. Women make up the majority of workers earning the minimum wage or just above.
* Women and in particular, women with children, are more reliant on public services and welfare provisions, all of which are currently being severely curtailed by government.

* Reductions in health expenditure have resulted in reductions in services for people with disabilities.

* Budget 2011 saw cuts in Disability Allowance, Carers Allowance (under 66), and Carer’s Benefit.

We have witnessed and continue to see increases in inequality and poverty, and there is growing evidence highlighting the disproportionate impact economic policies are having on disadvantaged groups since the beginning of the economic crisis.
Equality Budgeting has been internationally accepted as a means to effectively deal with inequality and poverty. Worldwide there are over 60 countries that have adopted or are working toward equality budgeting, such as the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Tanzania and Uganda.

The time has come for Ireland to follow suit and make a stand and provide a more just and equitable society for all.

Often in order to create true equality we have to put the mechanisms in place to ensure that this happens, this is one of those times.

By using equality budgeting we would be ensuring that equality is placed well and truly at the centre of any decisions concerning public expenditure and income.

I now want to outline some of the specifics of the Bill.

The existing Equal Status Act 2000 came into force on the 25th October 2000 and it was amended by the Equality Act 2004 on the 19th July 2004. The Acts relate to discrimination based on the following 9 grounds: Gender, Civil Status, Family Status, Age, Race, Religion, Disability, Sexual Orientation, and Membership of the Traveller community.

The Acts apply to people who:
Buy and sell a wide variety of goods,
Use or provide a wide range of services,
Obtain or dispose of accommodation,
Attend at, or are in charge of, educational establishments,
There are separate provisions on discriminatory clubs.

However all complaints must relate to at least one of the 9 discriminatory grounds listed in the previous point.

The Sinn Féin Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013 aims to do a number of things;

It seeks to add new anti-discriminatory categories to the existing 9. These include;

Trade union membership
Socio-economic background
Irish language speakers
Former political prisoners who served their sentences before the Good Friday Agreement or were released as part of that agreement
Rural dwellers
It seeks to introduce Equality Impact Assessment schemes and Consultation on a statutory compulsory basis by all Government Departments and public bodies where they are introducing any new measure, policy, budget and what adverse impact this may have on the existing 9 and additional 6 anti-discriminatory categories proposed in the Bill and how they intend to better achieve equality of opportunity, or would better eliminate or lessen existing discrimination.

They must have regard to promote equality of opportunity. The Equality Impact Assessment scheme of each department and public body will be assessed for compliance and monitored by the Equality Authority.

They will offer advice as per guidelines detailing the statutory duties of all departments and public bodies.

Departments and public bodies will publish the results of their Equality Impact Assessments and state the aims of the measure, policy, budget to which the assessment relates and give details of any consideration given against the duty to promote equality of opportunity and against the existing 9 categories and new additional 6 proposed.

The Government and public bodies in carrying out its functions have regard to reducing the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.

A Complaints system will be introduced also and overseen by the Equality Authority against departments and public bodies. The Equality Authority may approve a department’s scheme, and have power to modify it or request them to make a revised scheme.

Each department and public body must publish an annual report on the operation and performance of the scheme.
Via equality audits and impact assessments, Equality Budgeting provides information on the economic impact of policy measures on different sections of society.

Inequality and poverty are on the increase in Ireland.

The gap between the richest and poorest in Ireland increased by 25% in 2010, with the top 20% earning 5.5 times the income of those on the lowest 20%

The percentage of people in Ireland living in consistent poverty increased in 2010, as did the percentage of children at risk of poverty, which stands at 19.5%
We now know that economic policy measures introduced since the beginning of the economic crisis are having a disproportionate impact on certain sections of society, thereby exacerbating inequality and poverty.

Equality budgeting makes sense.
It is fair and just.

I am asking all Deputies in the house to allow this bill to progress to Committee stage.


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