Welcome to this special 2021-2022 Federal Budget edition of WEL Informed
We promised we’d give you an overview of the 2021-22 Federal Budget’s impact on Women. WEL has a very long history. The Howard Government ensured that the Women’s Budget Statement ceased to be a budget paper in 1996. In 2014 the Abbott Government dropped the Women’s Budget statement completely.
The 2021-2022 NFAW Gender Lens
Australian women’s organisations, like the National Foundation for Australian Women, always persist. (It took WEL almost 50 years to achieve abortion law reform in NSW .....we persisted). Each year since 2014 a national team of forty volunteer experts, convened by the National Foundation for Australian Women, analyses the budget implications for women and makes recommendations to the Government.
The Gender Lens work involves experts with an exceptionally diverse range of backgrounds, including members of WEL. In 2021 this scrupulous exercise covers 35 topics.
The Gender Lens this year comprehensively counters the media hype that has marked the initial reception of the 2021-2 Budget as a ‘pink budget’ with ‘heart’. The overall impression created by a close reading of the Women’s Budget Statement is that ‘The extra spending on women consists of small amounts of money divided across lots of different things. ........Perishable after the forward estimates’.
Our ‘at a glance’ take-outs on the budget.
We congratulate the Government for reinstating the Women’s Budget Statement in the formal set of Budget papers for 2021-2022. There is some progress, especially in childcare and aged care. However, it is not nearly enough.
Overall the NFAW Gender Lens report is a sobering reminder of just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality in Australia. It shows in sharp relief the sheer range of interrelated political fronts on which an organisations like WELA and our allies must campaign and contend.
Australia has slid dramatically on many measures of gender equity and this budget will not stop the slide. (Gender Equality Going Backwards Fast in Australia, AFR 21 /03 021)
Despite the apparent effort the Government has made to mend its ways with women after the debacle of the 2020 ‘hard hats’ budget, the shocking and unresolved events involving sexual abuse at the very heart of Government, and the nationwide rallies in response, this Budget falls short across almost every dimension of Government provision.
The Women’s Budget Statement includes three major statements with ongoing and some new budget initiatives on: Women’s Safety, Women’s Economic Security and Women’s Health and Wellbeing. However the Gender Lens ‘ Machinery of Government’ paper sums up the Women’s Budget Statement: ‘This year’s initiatives make up a tiny percent of the overall budget – 0.14 per cent of total Commonwealth outlays over a four-year period. Naturally, this fails to impress, despite the 80-odd pages over which the WBS is spread.’
You can read the Gender Lens on the Women’s Budget Statement here
With $17.7 b over 5 years for Aged Care and $1.7 b for childcare, the Budget makes substantial investment in social infrastructure care services (but not in the pay and conditions of care workers). To make these measures sustainable and to support an ongoing program of budget and other initiatives to enable women and men to equally participate in family, community, and working life, requires tax reform. Most urgently it requires the Government to abandon the legislated Stage 3 tax cuts, most of which will go to male higher-income earners, and which will cost up to $18 b a year, as much as this budget’s investment in Aged Care.
WEL strongly supports the Gender Lens call for the abandonment of these tax cuts, ‘to ensure that tax collections are sufficient to pay for ...spending on social infrastructure. Otherwise, we risk cuts to these programs when budget repair once again becomes a feature of the economy’’
The Women’s Budget Statement incorporates the Government’s so far muted Response to Respect @Work: A roadmap for Respect: preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the Australian Workplace. WEL shares NFAW’s disappointment that Community Legal Centres (including Women’s Legal Centres) which are often the first point of call for women suffering harassment and discrimination at work, receive no new funding.
To read more, click through the overview here
WEL is very disappointed that the Budget includes no additional funding for social housing through the Commonwealth/State Housing Agreement. Indeed it remains fixated on the increasingly elusive chimera of home ownership with a provision for single parents, most of whom live below the poverty line, to buy their own home with a two percent deposit.
The Budget provides no significant extra help for women and children escaping domestic violence, - the largest group seeking help from homelessness services; for older women, who are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia; or for other women who are homeless or in precarious housing situations due to the low level of Jobseeker, low-paid insecure work or job loss during COVID.
Read more about housing here
The $1b for women’s safety contains many positive measures but has to be seen in the context of static funding for social and emergency housing for women and children fleeing violence. For the first time funding to prevent and respond to violence against women with a disability, who experience disproportionate levels of violence, is included. WEL anticipates that the New National Plan for reducing violence against women and children.
Read more about women’s safety here
Early Learning and Care and Aged Care
WEL acknowledges the new investments in child care, pre-school, and aged care. Yet, as the Gender Lens analysis shows, the $1.70 billion for early learning and care will actually improve affordability for only one in five families. It excludes families with only one child in childcare and leaves in place the damaging work and activity conditions, which means that the poorest children are not supported. Moreover Out of School and After School Care, which is often prohibitively expensive and essential for working parents, has no equivalent additional funding.
Without systemic change, transparency, and improved accountability, there is a danger much of this funding will go to the private and the big not-for-profit charity operators in Australia’s market led care system and is unlikely to substantially improve the quality of services or dent fees.
Read more about Early Learning and Care here
Read more about Aged Care here
Women are over-represented in reduced employment outcomes, levels of poverty, and reliance on income support payments. During the COVID-19 pandemic the Government’s Coronavirus Supplement and other short-term supports lifted women, who were 54 per cent of recipients, and children out of poverty.
The increase to the base rate of working-age payments by $50 per fortnight from 1 April 2021 fails to lift social security payments above the poverty line and is completely inadequate. Proper indexing of cost-of-living increases would assist in keeping Australians out of poverty (see Indexing paper).
WEL shares the concerns outlined in the Gender Lens regarding the additional funding for the Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF) which is attached to many income support payments, including jobactive and ParentsNext. The TCF disproportionately effects women and is punitive, controlling, and ineffective at supporting people into employment. The TCF needs to be revisited.
Read more about Social Security here
Work, Pay Equity and Family
Three transformative economic drivers for women’s equality in the workplace would be universal, low/no-cost early childhood education and care, extended paid parental leave equally accessible to men and women, and pay equity based on a fair valuation of women’s work. There is no sign in the Budget that the Government recognises this.
In fact, the Gender Lens Analysis states that ‘The (WES) Women’s Economic Security package is almost silent about measures to improve the circumstances of those women employed where most women are employed, in the services sector. The only exception is a reference to the commitment to supplement grants to pay housing and homelessness workers (84 per cent female) covered by the 2012 SACS equal pay case (WBS, p. 62).
Aside from some additional funding to support workforce skills improvements in Aged Care, the Budget ignores the enduring low wage crisis suffered by women workers who comprise the vast majority of staff in the care and service industries.
Indeed in the highly segregated Australian workforce (one of the most segregated in the OECD) women are clustered in the low-paid care and service industries. Low pay and insecure work are major contributors to poor workforce retention, fragmented skills acquisition, absent career pathways, and inadequate services.
WEL strongly supports the Gender Lens recommendation that the Government, as principle funder for the outsourced care industry, start to take some responsibility for their low paid women workers and: join the application for a work value increase in the aged care sector; work with the unions to address the drastic undervaluation of childcare workers work and amend the Fair Work Act to clarify the criterion to be applied by the Commission in establishing a claim for undervaluation on the basis of sex.
Read more here about Infrastructure Spending (Pay Equity)
While the initial Budget ‘sell ‘ touted big investments in women’s health, the $315 m over four years (around $32 m annually) to support investments against the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030 is insufficient to achieve many of the Strategy priorities.
Small allocations of funding to important areas of women’s health, such as the Endometriosis talks program, Reduction of Still Births, lowering pre-term births, and IVF are welcome but piecemeal.
WEL is pleased to see additional funding for long-acting contraceptives (LARCs) as Australian women (and GPs) are slow to adopt this most reliable contraceptive. However, the budget papers are unclear on the nature of the program associated with the funding.
The large ($2.3 b) over four years investment in mental health is significant given that women experience much higher levels of poor mental health with one in three suffering depression and one in three anxiety. A welcome addition is the $47.4 m to achieve universal perinatal mental health screenings across public and post-natal care settings.
Finally, the Budget extends telehealth until the end of 2021, including renewal of funding for reproductive health services for people who have not seen a doctor in the past 12 months. This is a major step forward for people in rural, regional and remote areas, as well as marginalised people or simply those who do not ordinarily see a GP. Telehealth should be ‘baked in’ as part of the normal delivery of health services in Australia.
WEL is shocked that Aboriginal Women’s Health receives no additional funding and indeed seems to suffer a cut in funding in the fourth year of the forward estimates.
Read more about Health here
The VET statement includes no major program aimed at increasing women’s participation in a greater diversity of vocational fields of study. The Government gives some recognition to the ongoing issue of women being concentrated in certain fields of study in the Women’s Budget Statement, but then allocates the bulk of funding to the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program with a Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy of up to $7000 per quarter for 12 months to businesses. Women make up only about one quarter of apprentices. The Budget initiatives targeting women in non-traditional trade occupations are tokenistic. Yet these trade occupations continue to be areas of skill shortage. The other major initiative is the Job Trainer Fund which has benefited women who, according to the Women’s Budget Statement represent 56 per cent of enrolments.
Read more about VET here
You can access the whole Gender Lens here
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