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"The federal budget is a mixed bag for women."

Dr Caroline Lambert.

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.

“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.”

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.

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In addition to having no income for six months of a year there are a range of flow through impacts. It will become harder for young people to access and maintain housing. This is in the context of the cuts to affordable housing programs and inaction on taxation reform that would lead to increases in new housing stock. With the introduction of co-payments for Medicare and pharmaceuticals an already stretched budget will likely not extend to a visit to the GP, not when young women already told us that they sometimes can’t afford the public transport to get to the doctor. University may become a pipe dream with proposed increases to university fees.

Kids in YWCA childcare programs.

Changes to Family Tax Benefit B affect two groups of women. The Government has dropped the age threshold from 18 to 6 for families claiming the Family Tax Benefit B. Sole parents will receive a new supplement, but the changes come on top of a series of cuts under the Rudd and Gillard Governments to sole parents and leaves them in a very difficult financial situation. And a number of two-parent families will be having a long think about their working arrangements after the threshold for the primary income earner was dropped from $150,000 to $100,000.

Investments to end violence in our community, particularly violence against women, were mixed. The Government have redirected $50 million into infrastructure spending to decrease street-based violence, with funds for local communities to install CCTV cameras and improve lighting. Evidence supports the new initiative to protect Australian children from online violence, but it will be vital that programs specifically target young girls’ experiences of online sexual harassment and violence. And, as the Abbott Government develops The Second National Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children, there were no announcements of funding for primary prevention.

The Australian aid program was a loser last night, with cuts of $7.6 billion from foreign aid over four years, though the Government’s focus on women in the Australian aid program is a welcome and strong indicator of the importance of investing in women for economic growth.

YWCA Australia is the national association of YWCAs in Australia and is part of the world YWCA movement. We are a women-led organisation that achieves positive change by providing advocacy, programs and services for women, families and communities.

YWCAs undertake advocacy and deliver programs and services that develop the leadership and collective power of women and girls; support individuals, their families and communities at critical times; and promote gender equality and community strengthening.

YWCA She Speaks Survey Are you a woman between the age of 15-30? Tell us what you think about being a young woman in Australia today. Click here.

 How were you and your family affected by the budget?

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