May Budget

Federal Budget time for women

Here's what's likely to be a hit and a miss in the May Budget for women.

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Next week’s federal Budget won’t be a game changer for all Australian women, but it’s likely to deliver opportunities to many of those who need it.

Unlike previous years when changes to superannuation and childcare reforms were leaked in prior to the May Budget, this year the government has been tight lipped about what’s to come on Tuesday night.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has flagged a focus on pitting the good debt against the bad, with more spending on infrastructure and improving housing affordability.

We’re unlikely to see measures to directly tackle gender inequality in Australia, particularly on wages and superannuation imbalances. Both are areas that make the economic worlds of the average Australian woman and man very different.

While there’s room to improve on these, further change is unlikely, but not impossible.

That aside, the Budget is likely to be less blokey than we’ve seen in previous years because it could well include measures that will help many women improve their financial position.

Housing affordability

What’s on the cards is a funding package to help people buy their first home.

While the majority of first-home buyers are couples, single women are actually outpacing men when it comes to purchasing property, according to research by Mortgage Choice.

New funding might come in the form of new home saver accounts for first homeowners with some tax friendly treatment, similar to salary sacrifice for superannuation.

This will allow people to save more effectively for their first home and potentially put to rest calls to allow people to access their superannuation before retirement age for a house deposit.

Domestic violence

There’s talk of new funding towards domestic violence support services, which many hope will compliment the Victorian Government’s $1.9 billion recent Budget promise in this area.

Sadly one woman dies in Australia every week because of domestic violence, and countless more live with the daily scares of physical and financial abuse.

A lack of financial independence and gender inequality are among the main reasons why many women find it difficult to leave abusive relationships.

Julie Kun, the chief executive of women’s support service WIRE in Victoria hopes the federal government’s spending will focus on supporting “secure housing for women and their families and improving financial security for women.”

Improvement in these areas could go some way to helping an estimated 2-million Australian women affected by domestic abuse each year.

Education

There’s likely to be funding for a new training package to help people up skill to meet the needs of a modern work place.

While the details are sketchy, training that supports workplaces with digital skills and provides greater workplace flexibility would have its benefits for women, particularly in relation to wages and superannuation.

Women often cite rusty skills and lack of job flexibility as reasons that they struggle to get back into the workforce after taking career breaks to have kids.

Because of the lack of job flexibility in the modern workplace we have a growing casualization of the workforce and a greater number of women work part-time than are in full-time employment. Anything that moves with the times on this is likely to be progressive for modern families.

Infrastructure

Spending on infrastructure is usually seen as a good thing and to Treasurer Morrison – it’s also a good debt. This is because it’s considered a longer-term investment that creates employment and supports the needs of a growing population.

But where it becomes helpful for women is where spending on infrastructure projects support the working life of women and families.

We know that once women have kids, they are more likely to want to work closer to where their children go to school.

So infrastructure projects that help to reduce commuting times for parents would arguably be a more sensible way of spending taxpayer money, rather than on projects like inland rail projects such as the one earmarked between Brisbane and Melbourne.

But for all the opportunities in the Budget, there are also some potential changes that could hurt many women, especially where it relates to university studies and welfare.

Welfare support

As part of Treasurer Morrison’s recent discussion on what is good and bad government debt, some commentators believe the government could be about to announce further cuts to welfare.

Women are more likely than men to be on welfare, particularly elderly and single women with children. Women are also more likely to need this help given that they tend to earn less on average than men.

“So in the budget, the government is likely to talk about good and bad debt and separate the two out so it makes the underlying deficit look better than it is,” says Urbis chief economist Nicki Hutley.

“But talking about good and bad debt and labelling welfare as bad debt, which Mr Morrison seems to be doing, is not helpful.

“Governments need to help those who can’t help themselves, and not name and shame those who are less able,” says Hutley.

University fees

There’s talk that university fees could increase and that the income thresholds for repaying student debt might be lowered in this Budget.

If this happens, women more so than men are likely to be affected given that more females are graduating from universities, and that they also tend to be on lower incomes.

As it stands, students don’t have to start repaying university debts, such as HECS until they earn above $54,869 a year. But the talk is that this threshold could be cut to $50,000 or even down to $45,000.

In all, this May Budget will be one where the deficit is potentially worse than last year despite improving terms of trade, but it could also be one where the opportunities reach more women, making it overall less blokey than we’ve seen for sometime.

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