Federal budget 2020: Coalition slammed for failing to invest in female jobs

Labor's jobs policy defines closing the gender pay gap as one of its most urgent priorities.

Labor's jobs policy defines closing the gender pay gap as one of its most urgent priorities. Image: AAP

Women were offered “tokenistic” support in the federal budget but needed significant investment in female-dominated industries, prominent economists have said.

After coronavirus lockdowns led to more job losses among women than men, the Morrison government announced little in the federal budget aimed specifically at creating jobs for women.

They pledged to invest $240.4 million over five years into leadership and other cultural change programs, which paled into comparison to the billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and big business tax relief.

Angela Jackson, lead economist at Equity Economics, said “the fact they’ve completely ignored female jobs and female participation is phenomenal”.

“Look, [the policies announced] are probably an important part of the cultural shift, but when you’re talking about effective marginal tax rates [for second income earners] of 90 per cent, you need a bit more than a cultural shift,” Ms Jackson told The New Daily.

“You need to make work worthwhile for people with young kids. And, at the moment, it’s just not worth working those extra days, so you’re not going to lift their participation.”

In the lead up to the federal budget, economists had called for higher childcare subsidies to encourage more women back into the workforce and significant investments in health and social care to make up for female jobs lost during coronavirus lockdowns.

They argued this would not only create jobs for women, but also bridge major shortcomings in the provision of care that were exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and aged care royal commission.

But while the budget included a total of $31.6 billion in tax relief for businesses over the forward estimates, it included much less for aged care (an extra $2 billion) and little aimed specifically at creating jobs for women.

“You’ll see a lot of angry women talking about this, because government came into the crisis saying, ‘We recognise women have been disproportionately impacted, in terms of job loss, income loss, and dropping out of the labour market altogether’,” said Alison Pennington, senior economist at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

“And they have committed a paltry $240 million.”

Ms Pennington said women’s female employment fell by 210,000 positions, or 3.4 per cent, between February and August, while male employment over that timeframe fell by 2.9 per cent.

The figures were even starker in July before the easing of restrictions had enabled a tentative labour market recovery. Back then, female employment had fallen by 5.2 per cent; male employment, by 3.8.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his budget speech that 60 per cent of the jobs created since May were filled by women.

But Ms Pennington said 88 per cent of those female jobs were part-time positions, even though 57 per cent of the jobs lost since February were full-time positions.

She told The New Daily women had lost more jobs than men during the pandemic because they worked in sectors that were shut down first.

“Or they were in insecure jobs and were laid off first. Or they are dealing with an increased caring burden [as a result of school closures] and can’t afford childcare fees,” she said.

“And government’s plan does not address those structural problems.

“What they are providing is token funding for leadership programs, including an expansion in mentoring and entrepreneurial opportunities for women in business, and a slight easing of the work test requirements for eligibility for paid parental leave.

“And this is going to benefit an estimated 9000 individuals only, and 3500 dad and partners.”

It comes just months after the Grattan Institute published research showing investing $5 billion in child care – to raise the Child Care Subsidy from 85 per cent to 95 per cent of costs – would have delivered a $11 billion boost to the economy.

Meanwhile, research by University of Melbourne professors Lyn Craig and Brendan Churchill revealed women have taken on more of the extra house work during the pandemic – with their unpaid house work burden rising by 0.94 hours a day to an average of 3.1 hours, compared to a 0.74 hour rise for men to an average of 2.4 hours a day.

The New Daily contacted Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s office for comment.

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