‘Once they see your grey hair, that’s it’: How the federal budget ignored women

Women, particularly those aged over 35, were big losers in the federal budget which labour market experts said had bypassed the childcare needs of women wanting to return to the workforce.

University of NSW Professor of Economics Richard Holden said it was “striking there was so little in the budget for women”.

University of NSW economics professor Richard Holden says there was no good news in the federal budget for women.
University of NSW economics professor Richard Holden says there was no good news in the federal budget for women.

“I think childcare is the most notable thing out of that,” he said.

“We’ve already seen female labour force participation drop from around 61 per cent back in the high 50s since the start of COVID.


“We know that women have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and that’s often a consequence of additional care responsibilities in their families.”

Professor Holden said measures to boost female labour force participation would have helped answer Federal Reserve Bank and government calls for increased productivity in Australia.

The federal government temporarily provided free childcare during the pandemic and later withdrew that support.

“Not doing anything to address childcare and provide more resources for that was very disappointing,” Professor Holden said.

The initiative to boost apprentice numbers also had “a bit of a hard hat blokey feel to it”.

University of Sydney Professor of Gender and Employment Relations Marian Baird said it would be difficult attract and retain more women into apprenticeships.

She said older women who lost jobs received no attention in the federal budget and the failure to boost childcare was a “massive oversight”.

“It’s a budget that misses the idea that we live in a society, not an economy,” she said. “The lack of attention to social relations, childcare, older men and women is a real disappointment.”

University of Melbourne economist Professor Mark Wooden said older workers who lost their jobs faced age discrimination when trying to return to the workforce.

“Older workers are less likely to lose their job but when they do lose it it is much harder for them to find a job,” he said. “Many employers think you are done by 50.”

Yuni Lee, manager of the Older Women’s Network NSW said the federal budget has “absolutely nothing for older women”.

Fiona Ninnes, 61, says she is lucky to get three hours of work a week since she left her full-time job as an academic student advisor at a university in Sydney in June last year.

Ms Ninnes wants to work more hours and said she would be facing poverty if she did not have a partner in work.

“Being old and being female, people don’t want to know you,” she said. “Once you walk in the door and they see your grey hair, that’s it.

“You get told ‘do volunteer stuff’.”

She and her self-employed husband did not earn enough to gain any benefit from the federal budget windfall in tax cuts.

Fiona Ninnes, 61, from the Southern Highlands said there was nothing in the federal budget for older women.
Fiona Ninnes, 61, from the Southern Highlands said there was nothing in the federal budget for older women.

University of Melbourne professor of economics Jeff Borland said the federal government’s decision to prioritise younger people within a range of broader budget measures was “sensible”.

“If you are going to target one group, the young are the group who should be targeted,” he said. “Hours worked in August for young people were down 12 per cent compared to March. For people aged 55 to 64, they were down one per cent.

“While there has been some bounce back, young people are still baring the brunt of the immediate impact of COVID.”

NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes.
NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes.

Australian Services Union NSW branch secretary Natalie Lang said the budget had neglected in women “from the cradle to the grave”. She said women needed access to affordable childcare to take advantage of wage subsidies for workers under the age of 35.

“The government did nothing to address that or job creation in residential aged care and the social assistance industry,” she said.

National Tertiary Education Union National President Dr Alison Barnes said universities relied on an insecure and feminised workforce including clerical and library staff and those in casual teaching positions.

“Blue collar and skilled trades jobs are important, but the government must stop overlooking the tens of thousands of women in universities whose jobs have been lost or are on the brink of disappearing,she said.

Women’s Electoral Lobby Australia National Convenor Emma Davidson said women and their dependents had been ignored in the budget.

“There was no gender impact lens focussed on the budget and no appreciation that its jobs, skills and manufacturing sector initiatives were ignoring female dominated industry sectors,” she said.

“Women were the first to lose jobs as this economic crisis began. Then women shouldered even more unpaid caring work. Women also experienced increased levels of domestic and family violence, and impact on their mental wellbeing due to the increased workload and financial pressures.”

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