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EDUCATION AND INVESTMENT
Federal Budget a win for women and families
The 2021 Federal Budget has been called many things: “pain-free” and “big-spending” are some of the terms used. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcements on 11 May show that it may also be dubbed a win for women and families, though some advocates are saying the budget allocations may not be enough.
Overall, the Budget addresses issues that have been making headlines over the last year, apart from COVID-19 related news, of course. This includes issues related to aged care, childcare, health and security for women, unemployment, and skills needed by the workforce, among others.
Flush with the successful management of the spread of COVID-19 and a ‘red-hot economic recovery’, the highlights of the 2021 Federal Budget are the commitment of:
- $17.7 billion over five years to transform the aged care system to ensure it delivers high-quality services for older Australians and their families
- $1.7 billion to increase the childcare subsidy with a focus on low- and middle-income families with more than one child
- $678 million over two years to increase preschool participation for all Australian children in the year before full-time school to 600 hours a year
- $357 million over three years to support women and children experiencing domestic violence or who are at risk
- $354 million on a women’s health package
- $2.3 billion investment to set up a network of mental health counselling clinics catering to Australians over 25
- Low- and middle-income tax cuts to benefit over 10 million earners – the stimulus measure will enable individuals to receive up to
- $1,080 and couples to receive $2,060. The tax cuts will be extended for another year up to 30 June 2023.
- Helping 10,000 first home buyers to build a new home with a 5% deposit; supporting 10,000 single parents to purchase a home with a 2% deposit; increasing the amount that can be released under the First Home Super Saver Scheme from $30,000 to $50,000.
Impact of childcare reform on women and families
Unpacking these announcements allows us to see the impact it will have on women and young families. The Women’s Economic Security Package, particularly, is aimed at improving women’s workforce participation and economic security.
There are changes to the Child Care Subsidy, with the announcement of an additional $1.7 billion over the next three years to increase the childcare subsidy to a maximum of 95% for the second and subsequent children in care while abolishing the $10,560 annual subsidy cap for high-income earners. Families will have to wait till July 2022 to benefit from this budget allocation.
Childcare reform helps young families afford high quality learning during early childhood, which is highly recommended. It also holds the promise of removing to some extent the financial disincentive for parents of young children, particularly women, who are often looked upon as secondary earners, to return to work full time. It encourages both parents of young children to participate in the workforce without having to choose between their career and caring commitments, and consequently improving national productivity and gender parity.
Sweeteners for women
This year’s Budget includes the release of a separate budget women’s statement which outlines the Government’s support for and commitment to women’s safety, economic security, and health and wellbeing.
Apart from the investment in childcare and allocating additional funds for preschools, the Budget announcements include an allocation of $351.6 million over five years to support screening and support for breast and gynaecological cancers, pelvic pain and endometriosis, and still birth and pregnancy loss. A total of $1.1 billion in new funding will go to improving women’s safety at home and in the workplace. This includes an allocation of more than $940 million to domestic and family violence support and prevention.
The Government has also set aside $95.9 million in funding towards supporting women’s careers, including for education, training and to support the return of women to the workforce after a career break.
The announcements include the Government’s commitment to enable 10,000 single parents to buy a home with only a 2% deposit up to 2024/25, providing many women in that situation more financial security and the opportunity to own a home. It has also removed the $450 a month threshold to pay compulsory super increasing the retirement incomes of part-time workers. Women account for 68% of Australia’s part-time workers. Unfortunately, the failure to introduce the payment of superannuation for government-funded paid parental leave diminishes this effort to improve living standards of women in retirement.
The measures announced are a step forward, but advocates are saying that it’s not enough. A ‘gender-responsive budget’ is where every policy is reviewed to determine how it will affect men and women differently. According to Helen Dally from the Equality Rights Alliance we need a budget that consciously asks the question across every line item: how will this affect women? She explained that due to 2,000 years of patriarchy when policy makers think about people, they’re actually still thinking about the lives of men.
Futurity hopes that the momentum gained this year will extend to the Government applying a gender lens on the entire Budget in future.