Women Are Key To A Fair Budget
This is the time of year that Australians dissect the Federal budget. We pore over who wins and who loses. We study the minutia of tax cuts and work out how much better or worse off our hip pockets will be as a result. It’s what we do at budget time in the land of the ‘fair go’.
The problem is that with each budget, we are ignoring women and the fundamental economic issues that are leading to entrenched poverty (particularly for women over 55 years), the gender pay gap, and access to specific health services that are vital for women’s economic security.
The 2019 Federal Budget has a number of measures that will benefit many women. The doubling of the low to middle income tax offset will have a positive impact as more women than men fall within this tax bracket. The record Commonwealth funding of domestic and family violence, an issue that disproportionately affects women, is also a good move. Further investment in encouraging and supporting women in STEM is also a welcome move.
If, however, we really want to make this budget, and every other budget that comes after it, fair for all Australians, we need it to target deep, entrenched structures that are driving economic insecurity of many women in this country.
While tax cuts can help in the short term, the biggest issue is Australia’s continuing yawning gender pay gap. In Australia that gap is 14.1% in favour of men and it goes as high as 26.9% in the financial services sector. If the budget and other forms of government policy and regulation were to address this issue, tax cuts or tax increases would have more of a proportional impact on women and men.
According to the latest workforce participation data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), women’s workforce participation is near record levels. However, there still remains significant barriers. One of the biggest barriers to women participating in the workforce is the cost and availability of childcare. If you couple tax cuts with better childcare subsidies, you will not only increase workforce participation, you will also increase women’s take home pay — a win for women and a win for the economy.
We also need to do much better when it comes to older Australian women. Women over 55 years are now the fastest growing homeless population in Australia. Women are retiring with much less superannuation than men (a whopping 42% less) and they are more vulnerable to economic and housing stress. A fair federal budget needs to address this gendered shortfall in superannuation savings by mandating payments during paid parental leave. This would recognise rather than penalise women who take leave from paid employment for their family.
Given that 52% of the people experiencing poverty in this country are women, any changes to the welfare system are also highly likely to disproportionately penalise women. Cuts to welfare payments provide a ‘double whammy’ for many women who are already struggling against existing entrenched economic inequalities.
A fundamental part of women’s economic empowerment also comes from their ability to exercise control over if and when they have children. What our national budget must start doing is making the link between these two issues by supporting and funding sexual and reproductive health services so that all women can exercise this right.
Australia prides itself on being the land of the ‘fair go’. Each budget that is handed down is done so in the earnest view that it will make Australia better. I believe that our politicians across party platforms genuinely mean this. But if we are to truly make Australia better for all Australians, we need to address the structural barriers that are causing gendered economic disadvantage. We need to involve women’s groups not only in the analysis of the budget, we need them to be part of its development. It’s the fair thing and it’s the right thing to do to make Australia better for all Australians.
Jamal Hakim is Chief Operating Officer of Marie Stopes Australia