Budget 2022-2023 has been presented as a budget for women. Certainly if you are a woman with young children, you will benefit from the welcome changes to childcare and parental leave. But if you are a woman over the age of 50, you are as invisible to this Labor Australian Government as to the previous LNP Government.
There is a fundamental failure of Government to see the major social crisis specifically affecting the demographic of women aged 50+. They constitute a third of Australian women. From their mid-40s on, they start to lose jobs and find themselves unemployable because of their age. The below poverty level Jobseeker and pension payments leave them unable to pay increasing rents, mortgages, energy and food costs. Most have little or no super and growing numbers inevitably find themselves impoverished and homeless.
The economic insecurity and social exclusion of this demographic is a distinctive social phenomenon that demands a distinctive, holistic approach.
‘Motherhood Penalty’ but no ‘Age Penalty’
Budget 2022 includes an 82 page Women’s Budget, but this too failed to acknowledge the economic, social and health disaster that is engulfing tens of thousands of older women precisely because they are becoming older women.
The Women’s Budget Statement lists women’s economic equality as one of its 3 key themes. The Budget quite correctly goes into detail about the ‘motherhood penalty’ on work, income and advancement. But there is nothing about the ‘age penalty’ for women. It talks about the need to remove the barriers to workplace participation for women, but it lists only child care and unpaid work. There is not a single word about the widespread ageist barriers that prevent the participation of older women in the workforce and their pay equality. Consequently, there are no Government measures listed to address these barriers that precipitate the economic insecurity of older women.
Modelling shows that the Budget’s parental leave pay, child care subsidies, and the stage 3 tax cuts will provide high income couples with children with an extra $9,763 a year, while the lowest income couples with children will only get $194. Older women without children will get zero. Jobseeker and the pension may rise slightly, but that is an automatic adjustment to inflation and not something the Government can continue to claim credit for as they tried to do in September.
So women aged 50+ on $17,000 a year, $48 p.d., will have to cope with 8% inflation, a 56% increase in electricity costs and a 40% increase in gas costs. That’s in addition to skyrocketing rents and mortgage interest rates. The impact of the Government’s neglect of women aged 50+ will be devastating.
Budget measures on the national housing crisis are certainly commendable and necessary, but they are essentially long term projects. And the provision of emergency relief for individual cases of women experiencing housing stress is inadequate. What is needed is a recognition that older women constitute the majority of those who are homeless and that this is a demographic-wide issue and must be immediately and specifically addressed on a large scale. The $4,000 social housing units planned are impossibly inadequate. With regard to rentals, the Budget offered no review or increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance and no immediate relief.
The Government’s failure to act is entrenching a class of impoverished older women in Australia. It is also sending a serious message to younger women. It is saying that beyond your fifties, expect to go over a cliff because you will be on your own unless you are a woman of independent means.
It could be quite different. The Australian Government’s claim that it cannot afford to increase social welfare payments because of the inherited Budget deficit is not convincing. Finland and Norway have successfully imposed a windfall tax on energy companies thereby enabling these Governments to improve the welfare and wellbeing of their people.
Bread and Butter Budget
It is disingenuous of Treasurer Jim Chalmers to describe this Budget as a ‘wellbeing’ Budget. It totally ignores the wellbeing of women beyond their 50s. His description of it being a ‘bread and butter’ Budget is more accurate. Because this is probably all that these women will be able to afford in the coming years.
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