Dr Caroline Lambert is the Executive Officer of YWCA Australia.
The Abbott Government’s first budget is a mixed bag for women. While there are some good news stories, for many women the budget announcements will leave them worse off.
Last night, YWCA Australia joined colleagues in the federal budget lock up and asked ourselves the question “will this policy have a different impact on women?” Key to answering is that question is the fact that women in Australia still only earn 71.6% of the average weekly earnings of men in Australia.
For that reason, the fact that the Paid Parental Leave scheme being promoted by the Abbott Government is at wage replacement is a significant win for parents with caring responsibilities – the majority of whom are women. Scheduled to start on 1 July 2015, the Scheme was a cornerstone of the family announcements made by the Government last night.
Also important was the ongoing support for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which is collecting world-class data on the outcomes of diversity policies in workplaces across Australia. The gender wage gap will start to close when more women and men with caring responsibilities can access flexible work arrangements on their return to work from parenting leave.
And as the number of women in leadership moves one step forward and two steps back, the continued investment in women’s leadership – supporting women around Australia to access leadership training, contributing their voice to political analysis and building the next generation of young women leaders, is critical.
But other measures significantly undermine women’s economic status, particularly low-income older women and young women just starting out.
Changes to the Aged Pension will disproportionately affect women. Raising the pension age to 70, the indexation changes, and pension income text will have a disproportionate impact on women who retire with only two thirds of the retirement income of men. The Abbott Government also missed the opportunity to reinstate the Low Income Superannuation Contribution (LISC) which had provided a $500 rebate to workers who earn below $37,000. Of the three million low-income earning Australians who had been able to boost their super savings through the LISC, 2.1 million are women. The good news story for older women is the Restart program, which will provide a $10,000 grant, spread over two years, to employers who engage job seekers over the age of fifty who have been receiving income support.
This may have unintended consequences for young women though, with employers giving preference to older workers. This is particularly detrimental in the context of the decision to raise the age threshold for the Youth Allowance from 22 to 24 – with Youth Allowance being paid at $48 less per week than Newstart. The Newstart changes will see young people under the age of 30 being denied income support for six months of the year, unless exempted, and set work for the dole requirements for the second six months of the year.