‘We need to do better’: Business leaders and economists say the $3.4 billion ‘women’s budget’ wasn’t nearly enough

  • The 2021-2022 Federal Budget will do little to assist financially vulnerable older women, according to Aware Super CEO Deanne Stewart.
  • Speaking at Thursday’s Ms(ed) Opportunity panel, Stewart said the $3.4 billion Women’s Budget Statement did little to assist single women approaching retirement.
  • The panel echoed other women’s advocates, saying the budget represents a solid first step which still falls short of the structural changes required.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The $3.4 billion Women’s Budget Statement will do little to improve the financial security of vulnerable older women, a superannuation fund chief says, amid calls for the federal government to tackle house prices and the retirement savings gap.

Speaking at the Ms(ed) Opportunity panel on Thursday morning, Aware Super CEO Deanne Stewart said home ownership — which the federal government has touted as key to financial security — is a “pipe dream” for many single women approaching retirement age.

Citing the fact that women over 55 represent the fastest-growing cohort of homeless people in Australia, Stewart said “there are way too many older single women who are couchsurfing, or living week to week.”

“As a society, we need to do better,” Stewart said.

Her comments came during an assessment of the 2021-2022 Federal Budget, which the Morrison government billed as a landmark commitment to women’s economic and physical security. Included in the package is $1.7 billion in childcare subsidies, designed to allow parents, primarily women, to reenter the workforce.

Single parents will soon be allowed to house deposits of just 2% upfront, with the federal government guaranteeing the remaining 18%. The Morrison government will also erase the $450-a-month minimum threshold for superannuation contributions, guaranteeing low-earning workers access to income on retirement.

Those measures will do little to help women in later stages of life, who have fewer opportunities to accrue savings or superannuation, Stewart said.

“Let’s not forget about single older women who don’t have a home,” she said, adding, “we have to do something to support these individuals, and the budget did nothing.”

“Great first steps” which could go further

Co-panelist Tim Reed, president of the Business Council of Australia, said further budget commitments to childcare access would have had knock-on effects for the broader economy.

Lauding it as a series of “great first steps,” Reed said if the Budget had “gone further in childcare, we would have got further participation, in a time when businesses are crying out for skills.”

“We just would have liked to have pushed harder on more fronts,” Reed added, saying that expanded childcare subsidies should have been introduced at the end of this financial year — instead of July 2022, as currently scheduled.

Echoing Grattan Institute modeling which suggests abolishing the $450 superannuation cap will provide workers with between $100 and $300 annually in retirement incomes, Reed said “that’s not going to be a gamechanger.”

The decision not to mandate the superannuation guarantee for paid parental leave was also circled as a missed opportunity to bolster women’s safety nets upon retirement.

“How do we put more [super] contributions in at more points in a woman’s life?” Reed said.

Budget didn’t “go the whole hog”

It’s a “shame” the federal government “didn’t go the whole hog” with the budget, said veteran economist Nicki Hutley.

Navigating the thorny problem of raising childcare workers’ wages without increasing client costs is an important goal, she said, and would provide lifetime benefits in surplus of the upfront costs.

But beyond any one budgetary measure, supporting women’s financial security will require a cultural overhaul, Hutley said.

“There’s that cultural piece around what girls do and how we need to change that, and that starts at home, at school,” Hutley said.

The panel’s comments broadly echo the sentiments of women’s and parents’ advocacy groups, who have welcomed elements of the budget while calling for deeper support.