What’s working for women?
What’s working for women?
We’ve been waiting since May and finally the government’s Women’s Economic Security Statement is out and while it has a mix of hits and misses, on the whole it’s a positive for Australian women, particularly those affected by domestic violence.
As the battle for the female vote heats up ahead of the federal election, the federal government’s statement is a mix of new measures, fact-find initiatives and enhancements to pre-existing initiatives.
What we have is a more intense focus on domestic violence and initiatives aimed at supporting financial independence. Around 17 per cent of women have experienced violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. That is 1.6 million Australian women.
The Statement also has incentives that if successful, should lead to measures to boost workforce participation rates beyond current record highs, plus measures to help support women in business.
While this is good news for women, it misses the mark for me on helping women catch up on pay and superannuation after career breaks to have children and care for loved ones.
Essentially we need more concrete measures to address the enormous inequality in the unpaid caregiving space – measures that could greatly enhance the economic wellbeing of Australian women and their families.
These might include:
- Compulsory employer superannuation payments on parental leave
- Policies to further assist with the affordability of childcare in all of its forms.
- Financial employer incentives to hire more women, particularly over 50s and boost workplace diversity, while ensuring equal pay.
Here’s a breakdown of all that’s in the Women’s Economic Security Package and my thoughts on each of the measures.
Helping rural and regional women return to work with professional employer assistance and employee support.
This is a good initiative but given that we already know the issues, a small pilot will be insufficient at this point in time. Support should be rolled out more broadly.
Workforce Participation: Reducing Barriers to Work Forum
While it could be seen as a massive talkfest, this kind of forum will be important to help educate business and individuals on the issues women face in the workforce. A good initiative so long as it delivers actionable results.
Scholarships for women in economics and finance
Finance has one of the highest gender pay gaps among women, but I’m sceptical as to why this is a focus over education and health, which are the sectors that employ the most women and which too have gender pay gaps. In health is it actually growing wider which is a concern.
Increasing Workplace Participation: Parental Leave Pay Flexibility
Allowing parents to extend their parental leave period and split it with a spouse is a good thing, particularly if it can be accompanied by an education program that supports and encourages men to take parental leave.
Increasing Workplace Participation: Extending Access to Parental Leave Pay
A good measure as we know that access to parental leave remains an issue. But it’s a shame it doesn’t start until 2020.
Restore and enhance the ABS Time Use Survey
A good decision. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Time Use Survey will collect high-quality data on how we spend our time. This of course comes at a time when our workforce is undergoing a lot of change due to flexible work, casualization, gender diversity and more women in full-time employment. If it can help us put a dollar figure on the value of unpaid work, including care work, this could be used as a bases for further initiatives to support women enhance their economic wellbeing, such as carer credits in superannuation.
Measuring progress and helping close the gender pay gap
This was announced last week and it will greatly strengthen the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)’s data capturing ability and reporting. It may also strengthen Australia’s position as a world leader on aspects of employer gender diversity. My only issue is that at $8 million dollars, when some of the reporting of pay gaps for employers remains voluntary, it could pack more of a punch if it were compulsory for all businesses, particularly the public sector.
Better Earning Potential Encouraging early interest in STEM
While this focus is not new, what the government has done is expand the existing program in light of its success. This is a good thing because it helps young women see more opportunities in the workforce and ones they may not have considered.
Boosting Female Founders
A good measure in that it should help more women in business during start-up phase. But what I would like to see included is continued to support or mentorship in the years that follow start-up to assist long-term success, not just short-term wins.
Future Female Entrepreneurs
Love this because it focuses on girls and not just women. The Future Female Entrepreneurs program will engage around 55,000 girls and young women nationwide, particularly those in rural and regional communities, through a digital platform and in person workshops. The government is supporting girls and young women to become entrepreneurs through $3.6 million in funding for a new Future Female Entrepreneurs program across Australia.
Early access to super on domestic violence grounds
This could be great, if well managed through smart technology and financial advice/counselling support. But the issue will be timing because currently the ability to access your superannuation early can take many months, and this won’t be helpful in the event of emergency.
Early release of superannuation is currently provided in limited circumstances such as terminal illness and severe financial hardship. But the government will extend the ability to access early release of superannuation to victims of family and domestic violence.
Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships, including Financial Support Services
Not new but will be expanded to help women get on top of their finances through financial counselling, literacy training and support.
No interest loans
Not new but it will be expanded to help more women experiencing family and domestic violence
Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme
This is a good development. Many women escaping family violence settle family law disputes for less than they are entitled to; to avoid being directly cross-examined by their ex-partner in court. The government will prohibit direct cross-examination in specific and serious circumstances to protect victims from re-traumatisation.
New funding for Family Law Property Mediation
A good move, although could be an uncomfortable one. The government will provide $50.4 million for new mediation services to help separating families resolve their family law property disputes faster and, importantly, keep them out of court.
Small Claims Property Pilots
A good move. Some family law property disputes will end up in court. The government will provide $5.9 million for the courts to design and run a two-year trial of simpler and faster court processes for resolving small value family law property cases.
Better visibility over superannuation assets
A great measure and it will provide fewer headaches during divorce or separation matters. If only it were made that easy across all areas of asset ownerships.
The government will develop an electronic information sharing mechanism between the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Family Law Courts to allow the superannuation assets held by relevant parties during family law proceedings to be identified swiftly and more accurately. Allowing the ATO to provide this information to the Courts will reduce the need for such exercises and ensure more just and equitable superannuation splitting outcomes.
Bianca Hartge-Hazelman writes on women’s money matters and is the publisher of Financy and The Financy Women’s Index.
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