This year’s Scottish Budget is a little different. For one thing, it’s the Budget that’s come at the Brexit crunch point, where constitutional and economic uncertainty is at its peak. The Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, has been clear that in the event of ‘no deal’ he’ll have to take another look at the spending plans to respond to contingency costs and possibly deliver a supplementary budget.
It’s pretty expected then that the Budget contained few surprises when it was delivered just before Christmas. There was no big infrastructure investment or measures to tackle inequality, like the Give Me Five campaign led by Child Poverty Action Group, which called on MSPs to back a top-up of child benefit by £5 per week. Looking at the figures announced, an additional £9.7m has been diverted to Government Business and Constitutional Relations (total £12.1m) in response to Brexit, including developing ways for Scotland to work with EU partners.
But away from the ‘excitement’ of Brexit, the Budget is also different this year because it’s the first one to use the new budget process agreed in May 2018 following the Budget Process Review Group recommendations published back in 2017.
The new process was devised in the context of the Scottish Parliament being given powers over income tax, increasing its revenue-raising role considerably. It aims to be more transparent and give the Scottish Parliament more opportunity to consider what the budget contains with opportunities for year-round scrutiny. Committees will consider the budget against outcomes included in Scotland's National Performance Framework, which includes a mix of economic and social outcomes including tackling the significant inequalities in Scottish society. While it’ll take more time for this kind of scrutiny to embed, it will be interesting to see if it leads to budget analysis which takes a longer-term view of spending.
For the past ten years Scottish Government has produced an Equality Budget Statement or EBS, which specifically looks at the impact of the proposed spending plans by portfolio on people who live in Scotland, with a particular focus on protected characteristics. However the EBS falls far short of a comprehensive gender budget analysis, or Gender Budgeting, a process of mainstreaming gender into the spending decisions themselves at all levels of the budgetary process, as opposed to the EBS, which reviews decisions for their impact retrospectively. The new, year-round approach should be an opportunity to extend the EBS into a full gender analysis of the Scottish Budget as it is created.
Returning to the Budget before us though, there are some clear areas of identified spend which impact women. Key points include:
• The Budget for Social Security and Older people has increased from £122.9m to £574.6 bn. This mostly covers the Scottish Government’s social security responsibilities with the first payments from the new Scottish Social Security Agency having begun last year and continuing to roll out over this year. However, this portfolio also includes the equalities budget, which increases slightly from £22.7m to £24.6m.
• Education and Skills has been assigned funds to invest in tackling sexual harassment and gender-based violence against women and girls on university campuses.
• Justice will implement the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act and support training requirements for police officers on the new domestic abuse offence with further programmes to tackle violence against women and girls.
• Parliament is still debating the consequences of the Budget for local government, but figures from SPICe suggest that funding for councils has increased by 2% (£210.5 million) in real terms, however, a large proportion of that is ringfenced for specific projects and programmes. The non-ringfenced Revenue funding available for councils to deliver services falls by 3.4% (-£319.1 million) in real terms this could impact on local public services relied on by women.
Engender has produced a Gender Edit of the Budget, which compiles the full list of references to women in the Budget to see the relatively small number of areas in which connections are being made in the Budget between women’s needs and spending priorities.
This really is the ‘wait and see’ budget as we wait to find out what kind of Brexit we’re moving towards. It will be interesting to see how the envisioned shift to longer term and outcomes focussed Budgeting and year-round scrutiny changes the way spending is planned in Scotland.
Our call, along with the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and other women’s organisations, will be for gender budget analysis to be firmly entrenched into the Scottish budget process. Women’s needs and women’s lives need to be part of the national articulation of our revenue-raising and spending priorities.
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