Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Committee on Budgetary Oversight
Gender Impact of Irish Budgetary Policy: ESRI
The purpose of today's public session is to receive an update from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, on its gender budgeting report due to be published shortly. Our committee produced a report on gender budgeting this year and the ESRI worked with the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, on this project. It is an important practical step in progressing gender budgeting.
Before we begin, I remind members and witnesses to turn off mobile phones. Mobile phones interfere with the transmission of these proceedings and we would appreciate it if they are turned off.
I welcome Dr. Claire Keane, senior research officer with the ESRI. Dr. Keane is accompanied by Mr. Barra Roantree, research officer with the ESRI. I thank them for making themselves available to the committee today; we very much appreciate it.
I draw witnesses' attention to the issue of privilege. I wish to advise them that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
With that bit of housekeeping over, I invite Dr. Keane to make her opening statement.
Dr. Claire Keane:
I thank the Chairman for inviting us. Today, I will discuss our forthcoming report that carries out a gender impact assessment of the tax benefit policy in Ireland over the past ten years. The work has been funded by the Parliamentary Budget Office and the motivation behind the work is the commitment in the programme for Government to being able to gender proof budgets. We believe this is making a practical contribution in terms of being able to do that.
To give an overview of what I will talk about today, I will touch briefly on gender impact assessments and what the ESRI has done to carry one out. I will present some results. I know that we, in the ESRI, like to bring lots of numbers with us but I promise there will not be lots of numbers. We can happily forward the members a copy of the report, but I will give them an overview of the results from the report and finish with some conclusions.
What is a gender impact assessment? The European Commission would say it is the estimation of different effects of a policy, be they positive, negative or neutral, in terms of gender inequality. I am aware the committee has been looking into the area of gender budgeting, so we see this as being part of that gender budgeting process.
The aim of carrying out a gender impact assessment is to provide evidence to policymakers. It is to try to identify if there are potentially negative effects of policies and, in having that awareness, if something can be done to reduce those negative effects. It is to try to help and improve decision-making and planning.
Internationally, we know that approximately half of OECD countries are doing some form of gender budgeting.
Looking at work the committee has done in the past, it is clear that there is quite a variation in what exactly is being done. Our report uses the ESRI tax-benefit model, known as SWITCH, to carry out a gender impact assessment of tax-benefit policies. Some members may be aware of the model which has existed for a number of decades in Ireland. It takes a representative sample of the population and one can use it to determine the distributive impact of tax-benefit policy changes. To date, members will probably have seen it in use around budget time. It allows us to see what changes happened and who they impacted. Generally, we look at deciles and whether poorer or richer people were impacted by tax-benefit policy changes. Are different families affected differently? Is it couples with one or two earners or single persons? That is what it has been used for to date. The addition we have made to the model now allows us to look at the impact of policy according to gender.
The model covers income tax, the universal social charge, PRSI, cash benefits and some non-cash benefits also. There are two main advantages to having the model available and integrating gender impact assessment within it. First, the model is already in use in government in five Departments. As of this morning, a new version of the model was circulated which integrates gender impacts. In doing this work, we have allowed for it to continue to be done in future within Government. The second advantage of the model is that it allows one to look at changes before they are made. If one is trying to gender proof a budget, one can carry out an analysis before any changes are made to determine what the impact of tax-benefit policy changes will be by gender. That can help to inform one's decisions.
One might ask why tax-benefit policies would have any gender impact. It is not as if there are different tax rates or benefits which men and women receive, with the exception of maternity or paternity benefit. However, tax-benefit policy will have different impacts according to gender because men and women tend to occupy different roles in society. For example, there are fewer women in employment and more of them are involved in caring roles than are men. We saw in recent years in relation to pension coverage that because women may tend to spend more time out of the workplace and have fewer social insurance contributions, they may be entitled to a lower level or rate of benefits on foot of policy changes. All of these differences between men and women lead to different incomes and entitlements to benefits and, therefore, to differing impacts from tax-benefit policy changes. For example, 99% of one-parent family payment recipients are women and 75% of carer's allowance recipients are women. Men are more likely to receive jobseeker's payments, in particular long-term payments, and are also more likely to be in receipt of disability allowance. Those are some of the benefit differences we see, but we also see differences in income. Men are more likely to be in employment and to work full-time than women and where women are in the workforce, it is more likely to be in part-time employment. There are also gender pay gaps whereby women are twice as likely to receive the minimum wage. All of those differences in income are going to lead to differences in tax liabilities. With a progressive tax system, any changes on the tax side will have a stronger effect on men than on women. It is not entirely the case that we are looking at negative effects on women. There could be negative effects on both genders of different changes.
In carrying out this work, it is pretty straightforward to consider single men and women and to determine how tax-benefit policy impacts on them. Where they are single, we do not have to worry about the fact that they may be living with partners. As such, we focus on single persons and on couples separately. When we look at couples, it is much more difficult to determine what the gender impact of a tax-benefit policy will be. Where people live as a couple, it is difficult to say whether a policy impacts on both persons equally. For that reason, we looked at two extreme examples. We looked at what we call "full income sharing" where we assume couples share all of their income fully and then we look at the other extreme example whereby it is assumed that they do not share any income. Members can think about this in the context of their own lives. If one is living with one's partner, does one put all one's money into a joint bank account or keep some or all of it in a separate account? Does one party pay the mortgage while the other person pays other bills with things being evenly balanced as a result? We never know fully how couples share which is why we have modelled these two extreme examples.
A simple example in this context might involve a man earning €30,000 who pays income tax and USC. A policy change may change his income. For example, if the standard rate of tax is increased by 1%, it will result in a reduction of approximately 1% in his take-home pay. On the other hand, one might have a woman who is not working but is caring for an elderly relative and receiving carer's benefit of approximately €11,000 a year. If a policy change reduces carer's benefit by €5, it will result in a reduction in her income of approximately 7%.
If that is applied to a couple, that averages out at around 3% between them, if we assume that they share all those losses in the same way. That illustrates that changes can have more of an impact on one member of a couple than another.
What do we think is more realistic? Previous ESRI research has tried to look into this and see exactly how couples share income. We tend to find in the vast majority of cases that couples share a large proportion of their income - not all of it, but a good chunk of it. That is probably a more realistic option. Who gets what income can matter in terms of how it gets spent. If one partner is without an independent income, that might have an impact on that partner weighing in on decisions about how the money is spent in the household. If one person is not working and one person is working, maybe the person working has more of a say on how money gets spent.
There is research on this. In the UK, for example, they changed the child benefit payment. It used to be paid as a tax credit, so generally the man used to get it. It was changed to a benefit that the mother would generally receive. Looking at how money was spent when those changes happened, women were spending more money on children and also spending more money on themselves. Who gets what can matter and that is why we have done these two extreme examples.
In terms of our results, we have focused in the report on how tax benefit policy has had an impact on the disposable income of men and women over the past ten years. There is no real gender impact among single people. There was not much of a difference in the impact of tax benefit policy between men and women who were single. Singles with children lost out more so than singles without children. That was largely driven by cuts to child benefit and other welfare cuts. There was again no huge gender difference, but it is worth bearing in mind that single, lone parents tend mainly to be female rather than male.
Couples, assuming that they shared all their income, did not lose out much more sharply than singles. In terms of the individual income within couples, however, there were differences. In the case of couples without children who were not sharing their income at all, the impact on them of tax benefit policy was roughly equal. In the case of couples with children, there was a gender impact. Women were more affected. Their individual incomes were cut more sharply due to tax benefit policy. It is noticeable that those differences were driven by the lower part of the income distribution. If we take those cases where women were losing out more than men, it was lower income women losing out more so relative to men.
That illustrates those differences between men and women and the different roles they occupy. We looked at results by economic status to see whether there were differences if we compared working men with working women. There was not much of a difference there. The differences were being driven by women out of work compared with men out of work. If we know that neither men nor women in work were losing out more due to tax benefit policy, but we know there are many more men in work than women, those different roles and those different employment rates of women can account for a lot of where these gaps are coming from.
A positive can be taken from that. Female participation rates have been rising in recent years so that would suggest that any gap in the impact of tax benefit policy by gender might close as female participation rates rise.
I did not want to get too bogged down in the detail and results of this work because it is looking back over a time period. This tool is now available. It is a practical tool in how to implement gender budgeting and carry out gender impact assessments. The advantage is that it can be used in advance of changes happening and before policy has been decided. It is available to Departments so this could continue. For example, it is in use in the social impact assessment. The model is used to see if certain income groups have lost out by more or less due to policy. It could be an addition there.
The ESRI focused on gender proofing of budgets and gender impact assessments. The programme for Government discusses wider equality proofing and this method of separating people by gender could also be done on other grounds. It could look at details by age, family status and disability status. There is potential to expand it out even further.
If the committee has any questions, I would be happy to-----
I have raised this previously with different representatives from the ESRI. It is a big difficulty for them. Dr. Keane went through some of the items that are included in the income of somebody on social welfare. Will she outline what is excluded under the SWITCH model? The model can only take into account certain kinds of income where there are outgoings.
The illustration on carers was probably provided for simplicity. However, depending on the household, a person in receipt of the weekly full-time carer's allowance payment of €214 will usually also receive a fuel allowance, part of a child dependant allowance and what most people still call the respite payment, which is paid biannually if carers want to receive it that way. Does the ESRI apply that to everything? Are all pre-tax earnings of somebody who is working, which would include overtime, bonuses, etc., included? In the model provided, that is the main payment. However, there are significant other payments. That may be a problem with the model. It should be stated that not everything is included.
Let us not forget the model. For example, unless the ESRI has changed the model, it is not possible to value a medical card whereas, as between a working family and a non-working family, a medical card in the lives of those on low income is a rather valuable benefit to have, even if it one cannot state, for example, that it is worth €5 a week.
Dr. Claire Keane:
I am happy Deputy Burton has asked that question because as of this year, we place values on medical cards. In terms of what is captured, the model is based on the survey of income and living conditions. As the Deputy stated, an advantage of that is somebody can be in receipt of a benefit and other add-on benefits. We capture the vast majority of those benefits, such as fuel allowance, housing assistance payments, and rent and mortgage supplement. All of those are taken into consideration. The really interesting point is that the CSO actually goes out and looks up the administrative data. Even though it is a survey, the CSO has people's PPS numbers and its interviewers go out and find out what benefits people are getting. That helps inform our model. We can see people are getting carer's allowance plus, perhaps, as I stated, fuel allowance and housing assistance payments or other benefits. We take those into account.
Some non-cash benefits up until now, as the Deputy said, would not have been included but as of this year, we have tried to place a value on medical cards for the reason the Deputy discussed. If I have a medical card, I will lose it if I take up employment, which can be awful. It is not a cash loss for me but it can be a large disincentive. At present we are working on trying to value medical cards, not only based on how much they cost the Government, which pays an amount per medical card holder. We are also building in information in the data. There is a lot of information on how often people go to GPs, if they have been in hospital and how many prescriptions they are getting. We are trying to put values on all of those, as people who are very ill and use the card a lot may place a much higher value on it than those who do not use it.
I thank Dr. Keane for her presentation. Is it correct that her analysis suggests that the budget cuts to benefits such as one-parent family payment and child benefit over the past ten years have disproportionately hit women? Is it the view of the ESRI that women who are lone parents and couples with children are more likely to be affected by such cuts?
Dr. Keane alluded to tax increases or reductions being more likely to impact on a man. What about indirect charges? Have they been looked at? A big and polarised debate for us as policymakers is whether public services should be paid for through progressive central taxation, as we would say, or by user charges such as those for water, bins and parking etc. They have multiplied over recent years. We have argued generally that user charges versus progressive taxation are regressive and disproportionately hit the less well off. Is there any analysis as to the gender impact of one versus the other? From what Dr. Keane is saying, I take it that if tax generally affects men more, then user type charges as a way to fund services would be regressive not just in respect of income inequality but also gender inequality.
Dr. Claire Keane:
In the past we have been able to incorporate things like property taxes and water charges. It can be much trickier to get at other charges because we do not have that information. Our focus tends to be on cash incomes and in trying to put a value on some non-cash benefits as well, in so far as we can.
Dr. Claire Keane:
We assume property tax is split between the couple and we levy the tax on whomever says he or she is the owner of the property. The impact tends to be the same within couples because they are co-sharing a property. From memory, we did not separate that out. We did break down the results as to how much is due to different taxes versus benefit changes. If there were massive disparities in property ownership among men and women, for example if all single women did not own their own property and single men did, then there would be differences. We did not tend to see much of a difference of income tax and property tax hits among groups such as single people. As I said, within couples we are assuming that it is divided between them.
It is really difficult to get at the information on user charges for other things, even if we think about indirect taxation. Currently, we are expanding the model to take account of indirect taxes such as valued added taxes, VAT, and carbon taxes. It is relatively easy to get our heads around how that impacts on income groups to see if those poorer or richer are paying more. I cannot think of how that is possible by gender. I do not know how we could divide out and assign by gender costs among people living in a household which pays for all of these things together. I do not think that is practical. We have tried to focus on something where we can provide a practical application and use by Government. Wider gender budgeting would probably examine whether people are paying more or less for different services. An example would be whether certain education training courses are mainly availed of by men or women and if there is a gender impact. In a way this work feeds into wider budgeting so there would be additional work on top of this. We are not saying that this is it. We feel though that people's cash and disposable incomes are an awful lot of what influences their well-being, so that is why we focused on these cash and non-cash transfers where we can. I am not sure that answers the Deputy's question.
It is difficult to do a set gender analysis for indirect service charges like those for bins and parking or tax increases in bills, if I understand what Dr. Keane said correctly. Is that what she is saying?
Dr. Claire Keane:
It is much more difficult. We can track who is getting what in respect of income. We can follow what income men get. Even in the example I gave we can see who is getting different earnings and benefits but what we cannot see is how exactly they are spending that. Therefore, even if we have information on what the household is spending it is very difficult to break that down into who is actually paying for it. Perhaps Mr. Roantree might want to comment.
Mr. Barra Roantree:
The expenditure data will be collected at a household level. The survey on income and living conditions, SILC, from where we take most of this information, will say how much the main respondent to the survey got and how much his or her partner got. That allows us more scope on the income and expenditure side. There is also the conceptual point of whether user charges or, in particular, indirect taxes are regressive.
It is not always clear that one wants to measure those as a percentage of income. For example, when looking at increases in the main rate of VAT, rather than exemptions, there is a good case for taking changes in those taxes as a percentage of expenditure and looking at that also. One would get some picture of the distributional impact of indirect taxes by looking at that against income but it is also important to take into account that some people, particularly at the bottom of the income distribution, may have very high expenditure as they have temporarily low incomes. They seem to spend much without any income because they might be running down savings as they are temporarily out of work. An important conceptual point in thinking about indirect taxes is the question as to what is the appropriate base from which to assess progressivity or regressivity. It is something that may come up in the forthcoming budget if carbon taxes are to be increased, as is being suggested in some papers. We will look at and go into more detail on that when the time comes and consider the appropriate way to think about whether it is progressive or regressive.
On a related point, it may be important to think about assessing the package of measures as a whole rather than each individual component. For example, carbon taxes may be increased for some environmental elements but not every tax is necessarily progressive. It may be more important to think about what the package as a whole looks like. For example, one would consider whether the 2019 budget is progressive or regressive rather than picking out each individual measure. It is better to take a look at the entire package taken together, which is something we will pull together some time after the budget in the quarterly economic commentary we produce. It tends to come before this committee or another one.
I have two questions that might be slightly off the topic. It is interesting that three quarters of those receiving carer's allowance are women and that more women are in caring roles. I presume the witnesses mean this is at home, childminding, nursing or teaching. Are they "internal" carers? What is the most prohibitive factor that stops women earning the same as men? Is it education, the cost of child care or the cost of living? Are there one or two areas that are prohibitive for women? Recent studies indicate that if there are five criteria for a job, a man would apply if he met two or three of them, whereas a woman is likely to want to meet all five of them. That is despite women multitasking. Is there a particular area that could be pinpointed where it is prohibitive to women earning the same as men?
Dr. Claire Keane:
When we looked at the gender impact of policy by economic status, we did not see massive differences. If men and women were working at the same rates - if the female participation rate was the same - we would not expect to see massive impacts because of gender. There is a gender pay gap and women are more reliant on minimum wages than men but this goes from the gender impact to wider gender budgeting. Wider gender budgeting would consider the fact that in Ireland there are lower female participation rates than for males and we are slightly below the OECD average, particularly for women with children, so it is about delving into who are the groups that are not participating. We know women are now as educated or more educated than men, so we do not believe education is driving this. Much focus has been put on childcare costs and we know that within the OECD we have some of the highest childcare costs, particularly for lone parents, so it is good that the affordable childcare scheme is being introduced. We know that if childcare is subsidised, it should be done in a flexible manner and enough hours should be provided to have a knock-on effect on the labour supply of women.
We can also consider wider policy. We all love to speak of Sweden as "Utopia", as I would call it, but it has sharing of parental leave and a "use it or lose it" policy. There is a certain amount of parental leave and if the father does not use it, the mother loses out as well. That has been shown to increase female participation rates and, perhaps, reduce discrimination. If we feel that women will perhaps be discriminated against if they are of child-bearing age, or if men of child-bearing age are just as likely to be out of work as well, it will equalise the issue and improve access for women to the labour market. It would perhaps reduce discrimination in the workforce as well. The public sector is always seen as a sort of role model for the private sector in offering work-life balance initiatives. It will become more important in an economic sense, as the labour market gets tighter, not to have women outside employment if they want to be in work. There are barriers.
Along with childcare there is elder care. If we know that many carers are caring for elderly relatives or parents, we should ensure there is access to home care packages to help women into employment as well.
I would like businesses to introduce more family friendly policies for their male and female employees. These days very few people work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. compared with ten years ago, with more flexible hours. Do the witnesses have any ideas on that?
Dr. Claire Keane:
We have not done work on that ourselves. We can consider other research evidence regarding those policies, including internationally. We have seen advancements in Ireland where we now have a few weeks of paternity leave. In countries where it is offered to both genders, it should not be seen as a male-female thing: it is always a bit harsh to think men do not want to spend any time with their children and do not want to have those options open to them. It is also partly a mindset. The husband of a friend of mine decided to go on a four-day week to help out with their three young children. It was almost a shock at the start in his company, but now more men are asking him how he did it and realise they can avail of parental leave. It is mainly about changing mindsets and that is where legislation comes in.
Earlier I mentioned Sweden in the context of paternity leave. Until it introduced a "use it or lose it" policy, where a certain amount of parental leave was ring-fenced for men, there was not much of an impact on expanding parental leave in terms of female participation and closing gaps. The change happened when it became almost mandatory for the father to avail of parental leave as well. It becomes normal and more part of society with both genders as likely to want to avail of those family friendly policies.
Dr. Claire Keane:
We model them as they are in reality. Again, we can observe the people who get family income supplement or working family payment, and we can assign that to them.
The Deputy mentioned that lone parents have experienced a sharper loss in income. We do have to bear in mind, as I am sure she is fully aware, that there are always trade-offs. Yes, there has been a slightly sharper loss for lone parents in the last few budgets but the aim was to increase participation rates, particularly by female lone parents, and increase their employment. We are seeing one side where tax benefit policy may have reduced their income but we have to bear in mind that the aim was to increase employment rates. In the next year we would like to get our hands on administrative data on all lone parents in order to see whether the changes, which were fully rolled out by 2015, had a positive impact on the employment of lone parents.
It is important to realise that a lot of our gender budgeting work is not narrow and that we do not look at things in isolation. While the income of those groups may have been cut, we look at whether there was a positive impact on employment income, which is something we hope to look at this year also.
Dr. Keane said that over the last two budgets the lone parent income impact of the positive side of the budget was rather less. Certainly in the budgets of 2014 and 2015, according to the ESRI's reports, lone parents were the highest recipients of benefits - Professor Tim Callan compiled those reports at that time - simply because of the rate increases and, particularly, the expansion of family income supplement.
Dr. Claire Keane:
Looking at the changes to lone parent's allowance, the one-parent family payment could be received until a child was 18 years of age or until he or she was 22 years old if in education. There have been massive changes to that. The age limit has been brought back to seven years of age. While there are negative impacts to changing that system, in a way they may not be as large as we thought because working family payment and entitlement to the jobseeker's transition payment is stepping in to close that gap. We will see the impact of tax benefit policy in reducing the income of lone parents. This is one side of what we are looking at - the impact of tax benefit.
I have raised this matter because in Northern Ireland and the UK, as was referenced earlier, there is a tax benefit model where it is a tax credit. My understanding is that the take up is much less effective and more difficult, and not just for lone parents. People on very low pay often have two or three jobs. In a tax credit model a person has to keep changing the application to whoever is paying social welfare or to an employer.
In England and the North, it causes enormous distress at different times to different people, partly because the authorities are trying to make changes in real time whereas our system operates on an annual basis.
Mr. Barra Roantree:
I have just moved back to the ESRI from working with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, IFS, our sister organisation in London. We had lots of fun. There have been many benefit changes taking place there in the past few years and one of the things the authorities are doing is moving away from that system where the tax credit-----
It is. I wish to return to the issue we are here to examine. If there was a budget presentation as we historically know it and then a budget presentation that was primarily gender-proofed, can our guests outline briefly how we would see the differences? What would we be looking out for if a gender-proofed budget was introduced this year as distinct from the budgets we have seen in the past?
Dr. Claire Keane:
The major advantage of this type of modelling is that it can be used before the changes happen, so it is not necessary to wait for a policy change in order to discover if it is going to impact upon men and women differently. Departments have this and are using it for pre-budget analysis. It is used by the Government in terms of budget secrecy as well so it can look at different changes. It has been used in the past. One can see in budget documents reports from this model in terms of distributional impact.
If one wishes to add a gender aspect to that, one can relatively simply use this model and propose five different changes and see which one might be preferable. They are all going to generate the same amount of income or they are all going to cost the same but using this methodology one can compare the five and see which is causing the largest gaps. It is not like I have an ideal gap where I can say that it is okay if women lose out by 2% more than men, it is about comparing the alternative budget options. If there is one where it emerges that women are losing out by a lot and men are gaining by a lot or vice versa, at least that is helping to inform the decision. This is given in percentage terms so, very simply, it will show the percentage impact on men's and women's incomes if one makes a change or suite of changes.
That is why we are saying it is quite practical. It provides numbers for comparison. One can say, "If we bring in this budget package this will be the gender impact" and one can compare it with the gender impact of a similar one of similar cost. It is for the policymakers to decide what they feel is acceptable. Of course, there will be competing objectives. One could have one that is gender neutral but perhaps regressive or changes that are progressive and perhaps not so gender neutral. Unfortunately, deciding is a balancing act for policymakers. It is ultimately their decision as to which is the most acceptable.
Is the ESRI considering carrying out some analysis of the forthcoming budget on a gender basis immediately after it is introduced? Does it hope to be able to use its model and produce a report based on that?
Dr. Claire Keane:
We generally produce some quick analysis the day after the budget - usually published in The Irish Times- on the distributional impacts. That is generally done by income groups and on whether poorer or richer groups lost out. We do a larger piece for the quarterly economic commentary in December. Now that we have this incorporated into the model and if we decide there are some interesting findings, we could include some gender impact tables.
That piece will usually contain distribution analysis by income group, income decile or family type. It would show whether it was couples with one earner, couples with two earners, single people or retired people who lost or gained the most. It could be in addition to that.
In fairness, this has only been given to Departments today so I cannot be too hard on them. Officials are probably sitting somewhere giving out about me and saying "Give us a break" or "Give us a chance". However it is available now and, now that it is there, a new version of the model will be given to users every year for budget analysis. Ideally, we see this being used in the future and in next year's budget before changes actually happen. As it is now, it could also be used on the gender side.
I thank Dr. Keane and Mr. Roantree very much for all their answers and I thank the members who are still present. We appreciated the impact of the witnesses' work on the work of the committee, an impact which is important to recognise, and on the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office. It has been a very worthwhile experience. With that, I thank everyone for attending. As there is no further business, we will conclude our proceedings.