Federal budget leaves women behind: Advocates

Infrastructure spending and tax cuts benefit mostly men

This month’s federal budget, which will see a $64-billion deficit over two years, is intended to stimulate the economy and reduce the impact of the recession on employers and employees alike.

However, with corporate tax cuts and billions of dollars for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, it does very little to improve the economic status of one-half of the population, according to several women advocates.

“The stimulus is too meagre and too male. It’s not enough money and it’s not targeted enough,” said Mary Cornish, a feminist human rights lawyer and senior partner with Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre and Cornish in Toronto.

One of the most lauded aspects of the budget, especially for its job-creation potential, is the $8 billion for infrastructure projects over the next two years. But with women only making up seven per cent of construction workers and the same proportion of trades and transportation workers, women will see very little of this stimulus.

The government should have included gender equity requirements for these programs, said Cornish. And funding for skills training should target women, said Deb Matthews, the Ontario Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues.

“The Ontario government has taken action to promote women’s economic independence through the Women in Skilled Trades Program and the Information Technology Training for Women, and I’d encourage the federal government to include a focus on women when it comes to skills training,” she said.

The types of infrastructure programs that will be funded also leave women out in the cold, especially the lack of funds to build and staff child-care centres.

“The federal budget does nothing to address child care, the lack of which is one of the main reasons women can’t get into the workforce. This leaves women more vulnerable to the economic downturn,” said Matthews.

Also, public investment means more than just investment in infrastructure and should include education, health care, child care and social services, said Cornish.

“If you’re not targeting the money in providing it to municipalities for things other than infrastructure, then when the cutbacks come, the cutbacks will come in the kinds of social services women rely upon,” she said.

And since women tend to be heavily employed in these sectors, women will be the ones who lose their jobs when there are cutbacks, said Cornish.

Men will also be the largest beneficiaries of the $10.5 billion in corporate income tax cuts over the next couple of years, according to a gender analysis of the budget by Kathleen Lahey, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

At best, women’s share of the financial value will be 37 per cent because men dominate CEO, director, ownership and business positions, stated Lahey in her analysis.

Changes to the income tax brackets will only benefit people earning at least $40,726 or $71,132. Only 14 per cent of women tax filers fall into the former category and just six per cent are in the latter, wrote Lahey.

Since these changes put more money into the pockets of higher-income earners, and these people tend to save money instead of spending it, “income and corporate tax cuts don’t provide much stimulus compared to direct public investment and spending, or compared to support targeted at lower-income families,” according to a budget analysis performed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

“When I look at this budget, it not only fails to really target the most vulnerable, which women obviously fall into that grouping, but it seems almost to be crafted to exclude women as much as possible out of the $64 billion in deficit spending and tax cuts,” said Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.

The budget includes a five-week extension of employment insurance benefits but, without changes to eligibility criteria, women will continue to be less likely to qualify for EI because they are more likely than men to work in non-standard work arrangements, such as part time, seasonal or contract, said Byers.

A 2007 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found only 32 per cent of unemployed women who paid into the system were able to access EI benefits, compared to 40 per cent of men.

The number of qualifying work hours varies across the country, ranging from 420 hours to 700 hours a year. The government should have reduced the number of hours to 360 across the country and increased the amount of benefits from 55 per cent of insurable income to 60 per cent, said Byers.

“That could have been in the budget very easily and would have benefited women and men workers, but women are predominately being excluded,” she said.

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