The pandemic has hit everyone hard but the economic effects of the past 18 months have fallen particularly heavily on women.

Women are more likely to do low-paid work on insecure contracts, in sectors such as retail and hospitality that have been more significantly impacted by pandemic lockdowns.

This job insecurity comes on top of the burden of unpaid care and domestic work that so many women already face. As a result, women’s wellbeing, self-care and incomes have all been affected. 

These issues are even more significant for young women, women with children, those from BAME backgrounds, for single parent households and for women supporting elderly relatives.

Gender inequality in Wales is as big an issue as ever, and this recovery period needs to see concrete action to address these inequalities before they widen even further.

Timely, therefore, is the creation of a new group tasked with tackling gender inequality in economic policy and budgeting in Wales – the Wales Women’s Budget Group (WWBG).

The WWBG is an independent, not-for-profit group of leading economic thinkers, academics, policy-makers and women’s networks.

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We have come together for the first time in 2021 to influence and inform public policy to promote a gender equal economy.

We will use our economic and policy expertise to provide hard and fast evidence of how key decisions in spending and taxation can help make Wales a more equal and fair society.

One of our very first acts has been to consult as widely as possible with people in Wales to ascertain how far they already engage with the Welsh Government budget, and what they would like to see from a WWBG.

Our survey of over 200 people explored how far people engage with the Welsh Government budget.

The findings of the survey showed women were extremely switched on to budgeting issues - 96 per cent took an active part in managing their own household budget and 98 per cent said they were interested in how the Welsh Government managed its budget. 

However, the majority of those surveyed admitted to not being confident in their understanding of the national budget – and this was particularly true of women under 30 and women from BAME communities.

When asked what barriers prevented them from understanding and engaging more with the budget in Wales, the answers that came back were, perhaps, unsurprising.

Most women say they simply have not got time to engage with the budget, and this was particularly true of women with caring responsibilities.

Some didn’t know where to find information about the budget. Many found the way the budget was expressed a barrier - full of dry language, jargon, and a lack of clear explanations or examples.

One survey respondent said: “I don't think [the budget] is boring, but I do find it a bit too abstract. It's hard to connect what I see/hear/read about budgets and how my day to day life is impacted.”

Some complained that the media focussed too much on the UK budget in Westminster and didn’t have enough coverage or analysis of the Welsh budget.

These barriers must be addressed. Spending decisions in Wales affect every aspect of our lives. To ensure fair and equitable outcomes, it’s critical these decisions consider equality issues.

Meaningful engagement with diverse groups is an important way of doing this, but will be difficult if the barriers women raised are not dealt with.

When asked what they would hope to see from a WWBG, the same answers came up again and again.

Survey respondents want to see detailed and independent scrutiny of the budget, in order to pinpoint as far as possible how budget decisions impact men and women differently and potentially unfairly.

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They want to see the group focussing on areas where women have traditionally been disadvantaged, such as maternity leave, healthcare, social care, childcare, skills and employment, and to focus on the most marginalised women in society while still speaking out for all women.

They called for the group to hold the Welsh Government to account for its budgeting decisions and to share our expertise with women in Wales, by providing training and resources to help women and women’s organisations improve their economic literacy and confidence and build their capacity to take a full part in economic debate in Wales.

Many respondents talked about the need for the government to conduct ‘gender budgeting’ - that is, using specific tools which highlight how taxation and budget decisions affect men and women differently.

Gender budgeting is a well-recognised technique, used around the world, to help governments understand and tackle inequality.  And using gender budgeting in Wales would not just help to make women better off – it would benefit all of us.

Chwarae Teg’s 2018 paper ‘The Economic Value of Gender Equality in Wales’ found that a labour market, in which women were able to play a fair and equal part, could potentially add £13.6bn to the Welsh economy.

Overall, the WWBG survey highlighted how women want the Welsh Government to explain more clearly how money is raised and spent in Wales, and how the effects of the budget on inequality are analysed and addressed.

The WWBG can now take up these calls for budget clarity, greater focus on inequalities and better use of gender budgeting tools. We will continue to adopt a consultative and inclusive approach, and to work closely with women and women’s organisations in Wales.

As one respondent put it, there is a real need for this new group right now “to clearly show the gendered nature of the budget and economic policy... and to campaign for Wales to be a gender equal nation with a caring economy at its heart.”

For more information, or to get involved with the WWBG, visit the Chwarae Teg website.

*Rebecca Rickard is project coordinator of the WWBG

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