*Sincere thanks to Terese Edwards from the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children for assistance in putting this together*
The 2017/18 budget is a mixed bag for women. There are a number of measures that are welcome such as the move to ban direct cross-examination of survivors of violence by perpetrators in family law proceedings and some long overdue movement in the housing affordability space. But this is mixed in with regressive measures such as HECS increases and a punitive approach to income support. Missing from the budget is a comprehensive, underlying approach to gender equality which would promote policy coherence and complementarity across a number of areas. Also missing is a Women’s Budget Statement which would provide much more transparency on funding for gender equality in Australia and would be a step in the right direction towards gender-responsive budgeting.
Some of the measures left out of the budget warrant a sigh of a relief, such as the cuts to paid parental leave and family tax benefit B. However, taking these cuts off the table does not constitute action on women’s economic empowerment and underlines the fundamental need to strengthen mechanisms such as the paid parental leave scheme with, for example, superannuation payments.
These are our initial thoughts on the budget. Stay tuned for comprehensive analysis on the budget from the National Foundation of Australian Women with their Budget Gender Lens.
Housing Affordability and Women in Budget 2017/18
After years on the budget sidelines, housing affordability has finally risen to prominence. But will the measures contained in this budget undo years of neglect in this vital area? While big ticket items such as comprehensive negative gearing reform and increased direct investment in public and affordable housing do not feature in the budget, the recognition that housing affordability is not an area that the Federal Government must lead in is very promising.
What’s in there?
National Housing and Homelessness Agreement – $4.6billion over the forward estimates.
Over the next financial year (17-18) the National Affordable Housing Agreement will roll on for its final days and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) will live out its promised one year of funding. Housing and homelessness funding will be rolled together in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, with yet another acronym (NHHA).
The negotiation of a new agreement over the next year is an opportunity for the Government to consult with the community, particularly women’s groups on what is needed in the next funding agreement.
What’s good about NHHA?
- The structure provides more long-term certainty for homelessness services previously funded through the NPAH.
- The funding is indexed.
- There will be increased accountability for the objectives of the agreement.
What’s not so good or needs clarity
- Despite the turn away rates in specialist homelessness services and the immense pressures on public housing, there are no major funding increases.
- The Federal Government has signalled in the budget papers a number of priorities for the new agreement including promotion of shared equity schemes, compulsory rent deduction, zoning reform, wholesale stock transfer of public housing. The devil, as always, is in the detail and close monitoring of the process of negotiations will be critical to safeguard against further erosion of the public housing system, our most fundamental and critical housing safety net.
- Consultation is needed. If this new agreement is to work for all women, the government must undertake a comprehensive assessment of the barriers for women’s access to homelessness services and housing assistance. This funding needs to support a diversity of women’s specialist services to meet the diversity of women’s needs.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance and associated social security issues
There is no increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance in the suite of housing affordability measures. The chronic inadequacy of CRA is acutely felt by the 256 000 women on CRA who remain in housing stress after receipt of their rent assistance (making up 60% of those in housing stress after receipt of CRA).
In the area of income support, the Newstart allowance is so low that women who are in housing stress and with circumstances that should qualify them for access to state support are actually prevented from receiving support because their housing costs form too great a proportion of their income. In some States, assistance with housing costs is only available where the applicant`s rent is be less than 50% of total household income before tax. Homes that are both appropriate and affordable for many women, in particular, single mums, do not exist for less than 50% of the Newstart allowance. This is the harsh reality for women including those who are attempting to escape domestic violence. Women who are desperately trying to stay safe do not receive any domestic violence exemptions and once their youngest child is 8 years old they are also denied the higher parenting payment and forced onto Newstart allowance. Too often this is a common entry into severe housing stress and or homelessness. Despite calls to increase Newstart allowance from our national leaders such as ACOSS, BCA and the ACT we have another budget that has turned its back to such a glaring need.
To make things worse, people receiving the signle parenting payment, the vast majority of whom are women, wom will now be required to find a third party to ‘verify’ that they are single. For women who have experienced violence, given that it is common for abusive partners to isolate women from their networks, this new requirement sets up yet another hurdle for vulnerable women to negotiate on their way to safety.
The ParentsNext program will be expanded with $263 million over the next four years. This will see the program go from 13 000 young parents to 68 000, mostly women. There are some positive and not so positive aspects of the program, particularly the paternalistic aspects of the program, which features a range of compulsory obligations and the risk of suspended income. We’ll be looking more closely at this initiative and some of the very concerning income support compliance measures in the days to come.
Supply side measures
Without a direct boost in funding for public housing, the supply side measures are a welcome, but slower burn approach. There’s a very welcome $9.6 million to develop a bond aggregator over the next eyar which will eventually shepherd large-scale private investment into the community housing sector. There’s also so tax incentives for smaller scale investment in affordable housing.
The big capital gains tax and negative gearing changes we really need remain untouched. These tax incentives continue to benefit those on higher incomes, with 50% of negative gearing deduction going towards those in the top 10% of earners. Thanks to the pay gap, men are over-represented in the groups that these tax provisions benefit. Inaction here means less revenue to reinvest directly into affordable housing.