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A budget for women?

On Tuesday evening the Albanese Government announced their second budget since taking office last year. Ahead of the federal budget, Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher stated that “Labour’s backing Australian women with the most significant single year investment in women’s equality in at least 40 years” at the press release on this year’s Women’s Economic Statement (WES). A reminder, the WES was first introduced in 2020. It provides an analysis of the economic challenges facing women in Australia and outlines the government's policies and initiatives to address these challenges. The report covers a range of issues, including gender pay gaps, workforce participation, unpaid care work, and women's entrepreneurship. According to Senator Gallagher, women’s equality “isn’t an add-on or nice to have. It’s crucial for our prosperity” and we at Elladex say “here, here!”.

So the question remains, what’s in the budget for women and does it really deliver in terms of improving women’s equality and addressing the financial hurdles faced by women? Here’s our take of what’s in and what’s missing from this year’s budget.

What’s in:

More support for single mothers

It was a good night for our single parent families of which 79.9% are single mothers (ABS) with three key announcements.

  1. Expansion of eligibility for the Parenting Payment (Single) - $1.9Billion dollars of funding has been allocated over 5 years to expand the eligibility for the Parenting Payment (Single) which has a base rate of $922.10/fortnight. Now parents whose youngest child is age 14 may be eligible for the payment, up from age 8 previously. This measure will see an additional 57,000 single parents become eligible for the payment.
  2. Child support for single parents reform - $5.1 million of funding has been committed over the next 5 years to implement the recommendation made by the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System. Some of the recommendations included commissioning research into the cost of raising children, reviewing compliance in the child support scheme, reviewing the child support scheme and Family Tax Benefit to understand how single parents are supported after separation, identifying how parents with caring responsibilities can be better supported where private collect arrangements have broken down and a Child Support Stakeholder Consultation Group. 
  3. ParentsNext will be axed - Participation in ParentsNext is mandatory for eligible parents who are identified as being at risk of long-term welfare dependency. Failure to comply with the program's requirements can result in a reduction in Parenting Payment. It’s been widely criticised for it’s strict mutual obligations that are described as punitive and damaging, especially for single mothers. The scheme won’t end until 2024 but the mutual obligations of the scheme have already been stopped. What’s replacing it is a voluntary government program in July 2024 after a period of consultation.

The rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance will increase

About 49% of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) recipients are single women and the budget has committed to increasing the maximum rate payable by 15% from September 2023. For those households who receive the maximum CRA they can expect an increase from $157.20 to $180.80 a fortnight, an overall uptick of about $23.60 a fortnight. Many experts, however, have pointed out that this is a very modest increase given the average rent across capital cities rose by 17.6% in the last year according to a report from Domain.

Aged care workers are getting a pay rise

Those working in the Aged Care industry are among the lowest paid workers in the country, of which 83% are women. Thanks to an allocation of $11.3 billion over 4 years, these workers will enjoy a 15% interim pay rise including nurses, personal care workers, cooks, recreational officers and home care workers.

Investment in Apprenticeship and Traineeships for women

In an effort to boost the number of women in male-dominated trade apprenticeships and the organisations with expertise in supporting women in the workplace, the government has committed to $5million of grant funding over 3 years.

Boost for Job Seeking women over 55

All job seekers will receive a boost of $40 a fortnight to help manage the cost of living. For those seeking employment over the age of 55 they’ll enjoy a boost of $92.10 per fortnight to bring it in line with those over 60. This is a nod to the fact that single women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing cohort experiencing homelessness and these cohorts often face higher medical expenses.

Bulk Billing for kids under 16, pensioners and concession card holders

Trying to find a doctor who offers bulk billing is near impossible these days but that’s about to change for children under the age of 16, pensioners and any concession card holder thanks to the government announcing it would triple the incentives to offer bulk billing for appointments running between 6 and 20 minutes. The cost of which is expected to be $3.5 billion.

Funding to prevent violence against First Nations women

$194 million over 4 years has been allocated to specific funding for the priorities to end violence against First Nations Women and Children including culturally responsive healing programs, addressing immediate safety concerns for women and children and funding community-led safety services.

Energy Bill reprieve for $5 million low income households
Up to $500 rebates are expected as a part of the $1.5Billion Energy Bill Relief Fund. Over 5 million households will benefit from this package, however the amounts will depend on which state/territory you live in, the energy pricing and whether or not you’re on existing social payments or a pension.

Super boost

Whilst not specifically for women, we’ll take any superannuation boosting initiatives we can get. From July 2026 employers will be required to pay super at payday, rather than quarterly, gaining workers more money through compounding interest and making it harder for businesses to dodge paying super. This fundamental change to superannuation payments will help to ensure more people get paid the superannuation they are owed, more frequently and ultimately boost retirement incomes by thousands of dollars. According to a  federal government estimate, a 25-year-old earning average wages will be about $6,000 better off at retirement thanks to the change.

Improved Safety Online

The government announced it will spend $134.1million over 4 years to establish an Office of the eSafety commissioner who is tasked with improving the safety outcomes for Australians online, including women’s safety online. What’s perhaps particularly pertinent to women and a key focus of the eSafety commissioner is addressing the rise of technology-facilitated abuse and supporting victims-survivors.

What’s missing:

No interim pay increase for early childhood educators

Much like Aged Care workers, early childhood educators in Australia are amongst the lowest paid professions, despite the importance of their work in supporting children’s development which has led to workforce shortages and high turnover rates. There are an estimated 20,000 early education jobs vacant right now. Every vacancy affects six to twelve families who then struggle to access suitable and affordable childcare. This then makes it difficult for families to participate in work, earn money to provide for their families and pay taxes. In short, childcare workers are fundamental to our functioning society and they need a pay rise, now.
We should note, the budget does allocate $72.4 million to support the professional development of early childhood educators, and provide financial assistance to educators to complete the practicum required for a Bachelor or Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Unless however we see improvement in their wages, the industry will continue to see high rates of turnover and job vacancy.

No Super payments on paid parental leave

Why is it that we pay superannuation on annual leave, family and domestic violence leave, sick leave and long service leave but not parental leave? It makes no sense. It unfairly impacts and penalises women. It contributes to the gender wealth gap which sees women retire with less superannuation than men which is problematic when you consider that women on average live longer with more expensive medical care requirements. It needs to change, now.

Not enough to address the crisis of violence against women

The goal of the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 is to do so within one generation. Peak bodies in the domestic violence space have indicated that $1 Billion a year is required to address the crisis of violence against women. A total of $589.3 million was allocated in this year's budget which includes the aforementioned funding of $194 million over four years to end domestic violence against First Nations women and children. It’s not enough.

Minimal funding in Women’s health issues

The budget has committed $26.4 million to continue research and data collection activities for women’s health. Part of this will be allocated to the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, and women centred care. Whilst we’re gaining some terrific research and insights, this isn’t translating into initiatives. Let’s take action to improve women’s health outcomes and care, now.

Little in the way of addressing the cost of housing

Despite the expansion in eligibility for the First Home Guarantee and the First Regional Home Buyer Schemes and the increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, there was little in the way of announcements to address the cost of housing both for home buyers and renters. Is it time we looked at reforming capital gains tax or negative gearing? Or perhaps placing a cap on foreign investment in residential housing? More incentives to bolster housing supply in desirable locations? Access to affordable housing is essential to an individual’s safety and wellbeing. Action needs to be taken to address this crisis, now.

The verdict

Some nice gestures towards women but we still have a long way to go to address the systemic challenges women face when it comes to equality and financial wellbeing.
Granted that it will take more than one budget and one term of government to achieve these outcomes, we would like to see more bold policy and initiatives going forward. Something that looks doubtful given the next federal budget will be the last before the next election. A time when governments are even more cautious about announcing bold policy and initiatives. This budget was the one to make bold announcements and change.

To influence policy development we need to continue to raise awareness about the unique economic challenges facing women, support advocacy groups that promote women’s economic inclusion and continue to exercise our democratic rights by voting for political candidates that support women’s equality.


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