What the Budget means for women

Opinion: The Budget’s physical infrastructure investment will help NZ’s economic recovery. But the Government must remember, few women work in construction.

Physical infrastructure jobs like construction are mainly done by men. Photo: iStock

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised Budget 2020 would focus on jobs, saying the "rainy day" for spending had arrived. Her Deputy, Winston Peters, said it was more like a “blizzard”, but the result was the same. A rescue fund of $50 billion was announced, much of which was earmarked for an extension of the wage subsidy, for training and retraining, and for infrastructure development across a number of sectors.

In other words, yes, this was a Budget focused on keeping people in jobs, finding workers new jobs, and supporting businesses through that process. Around $1.6 billion will be invested in trades and apprenticeships training, with “critical” industries the focus – defined by Minister Hipkins as including building and construction, agriculture and manufacturing. Of this, $320m is for this training to be fees-free, $412m is for employers to keep training their apprentices and $19m is for group training schemes to retain apprentices. Trades Academy places in secondary schools will increase by 1000 places a year from 2021 to help grow a future skilled workforce.

Alongside this, close to 10,000 hospitality and aviation sector workers will be retrained for work in the primary sector, while $1.1 billion has been earmarked for 11,000 new jobs in regional environment projects, biodiversity, and through the Department of Conservation’s Jobs for Nature Fund.

So what does this ‘rebuild together’ budget look like from a gender perspective? StatsNZ Household Labour Force Survey data tells us a lot about the gendered structure of our labour market. For example, in December 2019, women comprised around 30 percent of those employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing, with similar proportions in manufacturing, and in the electricity, water and waste management industries. In the construction sector, women represent a mere 14 percent of those employed.

By contrast, women make up 72 percent of those employed in the education and training sectors, and 83 percent of health care and social service providers. In retail and food (service and hospitality), and the Department of Conservation, the gender gaps are less glaring (56 percent and 46 percent respectively).

However, women are more likely than men to be underemployed or “underutilised” – meaning more women than men, who are working part-time, want more work. But asking women currently employed in hospitality to move to the primary sector could prove challenging, both geographically and because of the horizontal labour market segregation already outlined.

We are not arguing that this is a bad Budget for women. It includes funding for skills and jobs for rangatahi, for further investment in Whanau Ora, and for Te Kohanga Reo. It provides support for Pasifika families, education and culture; and it focuses on sectors we know New Zealand voters care about: housing, health, education and the environment.

In advance of the Budget, announcements were made to increase funding for ECE teachers, family violence services, and DHBs (with funding for operational and capital expenditure including upgrading infrastructure). The Budget also included money for disability services and vocational courses like community health, counselling, and care work. Funding for adult and community education has been restored, with $16 million allocated to night classes.

Indeed there has been near universal acclamation that this Budget represents an important first step in rebuilding our economy together. And there is hope that welfare reform will follow. However, shining a gender lens on the efforts to invest in jobs and an economy that benefits the wellbeing of all New Zealanders shows us that many women and men work in different sectors of our economy. In other words, we need to remember that infrastructure includes both the physical and social.

Investment in physical infrastructure (such as building of railways, housing and hospitals) creates jobs and is valuable for male employment rates, for businesses and households. Alongside this, investment in social infrastructure (services that provide healthcare, education, long-term care and child care) also benefits the economy and society. Like physical infrastructure, these jobs provide immediate and longer-term returns, in the form of a better educated, healthier and well cared-for population, many of whom are employed in industries connected to physical infrastructure. Much of this care work is undertaken by women, is both paid and unpaid, and is the “essential” backbone of a resilient society, in ordinary times, and in the face of pandemics and economic crises.

You can see where we are going here. Good gender analysis of employment statistics, economic sustainability options and accounting for care work reveals that investment in both physical and social infrastructure makes sense. While it is not common for policy-makers to view spending on social infrastructure as a mechanism for boosting the economy, especially in recessionary times, research from seven OECD countries, conducted by researchers at the UK Women’s Budget Group, shows that investing in both the caring and construction industries generates increases in employment and adds to growth.

Indeed, the study revealed that investment in the caring sector has the potential to create more jobs overall, many of which would be taken by women. And while men’s employment would rise more than women’s if investment is focused on construction, men’s employment would increase by almost as much with investment in care because of the overall employment effect, and because a proportion of care jobs would be taken up by men.

New Zealand doesn’t yet have a gender-responsive budgeting process, whereby agencies would be required to explicitly and systematically ask “who” is benefiting from the infrastructure investment being proposed, and how it would address gender, intersectional and other structural inequalities that already exist in economic and social wellbeing. The Ministry for Women’s Bringing Gender In online tool can assist with this work. And such an approach would help grow the economy, because it brings in more resources, expands the number and range of people in paid work, while advancing gender equality at the same time. It’s not an either-or; it’s a win-win.

In 2006, the Economist reminded us of the importance of ‘women workers’ to economic recovery. Specifically, the increase in female employment in OECD countries has been the main driving force of growth in the 20 years leading up to the 21st century. As such, the authors argue, women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants of China and India. Add the value of housework and child-rearing, and it’s estimated that women probably account for just over half of the world’s output. And they do it in different sectors to men. This might be something for the Government to remember when they are deciding how to spend the remaining $20 billion over the next few months.

Professor Jennifer Curtin is director of the Public Policy Institute; Dr Suzy Morrissey is a research associate and Sarah Bickerton is a postdoctoral fellow, both at the Public Policy Institute.

This article reflects the opinion of the authors and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

Used with permission from Newsroom What the Budget means for women 15 May 2020.

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