From the Invisible Hand to the Invisible Woman: The Politics of Neutrality in the Context of Social Tax Expenditures

Title: From the Invisible Hand to the Invisible Woman: The Politics of Neutrality in the Context of Social Tax Expenditures
Authors: Annick, Provencher
Date: 2014
Abstract: In law, neutrality is now a postulate and this is particularly true about Social Tax Expenditures (STEs) which are tax measures with a redistributive goal, similar to welfare benefits. Hence, taxation and the welfare state are closely connected insofar as STEs are part of the welfare system. But they are introduced within a context of apparent gender-neutrality. Tax law takes little account of gender in the implementation of tax policy. Moreover, the normative criteria for the analysis of tax regimes include concepts such as equity—which suggests that taxpayers in the same position should be treated the same way. We see the potential for a clash of interests between social policy and the founding principles of taxation. The risk is of being unable to account for gender in tax law. My thesis therefore seeks to answer this research question: does the STEs and tax policy discourse relating to STEs contain gender assumptions on the role of women that could, in their subsequent implementation, affect women’s relationship to the STEs? They may be written in gender-neutral terms, they may not consider gender in their implementation. A purely positivistic approach would not highlight how the increasing importance of neutrality in the construction and implementation of law may hide important assumptions about women. Law is an institution and a discourse that has the potential of constructing identities and norms. What is conceived as a neutral or objective approach to law has often been criticized as mirroring the experience, values and reality of the majority. Therefore, law, as a discourse, can perpetuate values, according to an ideal imposed by the majority, neglecting those of minority groups. In a critical approach to this apparent neutrality, the study of the relationship between power and knowledge is necessary. A critical approach from a gender perspective will highlight how women’s identity can be constructed through the tax policy discourse. At the theoretical level, the intimate relationship STEs share with welfare programmes requires that they be examined using a conceptual framework similar to that which is used to examine other benefits of the welfare state. First, I used this literature to organize the discourse analysis according to the three discursive periods regarding the welfare state. Secondly, the themes for the discourse analysis were also identified from the welfare state literature. Empirically, I conducted a thematic discourse analysis of those STEs using budgetary papers, debates in the House of Commons, and other documents emanating from the government outlining the legislative intent. Results indicate that the discourse around STEs is limited to a conversation in terms of the technical aspect of the law which limits the potential for the discourse in terms of welfare provision. This thesis also reveal that the tax policy discourse in relation to STEs is not gender-neutral. In constructing STEs, various assumptions are made about women and their role in society.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -