Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


Women's Economic Security

8:08 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the plight of older women. Before this year, the fastest-growing cohort of homeless people was older women aged over 55, but this year it's women aged over 45. There are 405,000 women aged 45 and older who are at risk of homelessness. The retirement income review released last month shows that people over 65 who don't own their own home are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, with 48 per cent of them living in poverty. Women are at increased risk of homelessness if they rent on the private market and if they don't have full-time employment. And if they are, or have been, a single parent their risk of homelessness increases by 65 per cent.

Many women sacrifice a significant amount of their working life to unpaid caring work for their children and then, as they get older, for their elderly parents. And women retire on average with half the superannuation of men, despite having a life expectancy of five years longer. This means, of course, that more women are relying on the full age pension, and currently 40 per cent of single women in Australia aged 50 or over are living in poverty. A growing number of older people are stuck on the poverty-inducing JobSeeker payment, with 42 per cent of people on JobSeeker aged over 45. All of these statistics are worse if you're a First Nations woman.

The government's COVID stimulus focus on the construction and gas sectors will do nothing to help women. When we consider the government's failures in aged care and the disaster of privatisation, it's important to remember that two-thirds of aged-care residents are women and 80 per cent of aged-care workers are women. At every stage of our lives, women have been let down by this government, which has always chosen to prioritise the profits of the private sector over the lives and wellbeing of people. As we near the end of the year, we know that it's women who'll be doing the heavy lifting of unpaid work to make festivities special, but there's also the unacknowledged emotional labour that women do to bring families together.

There are so many policy responses that this government should be considering. Close the gender pay gap, to finally boost women's financial and economic security. Permanently increase JobSeeker to a livable rate. Pay superannuation on parental leave. Double the low-income superannuation tax offset or LISTO—and we know twice as many women as men would benefit from that. Remove that threshold of $450 a month income, below which superannuation isn't payable by an employer—again, it's women who miss out because of that threshold. Make early childhood education universal and free. Build one million social homes to address the long waiting list for public housing in this country. Lastly, look at how to financially value unpaid care work, looking at both workplace and social security reforms, and both for people who take a temporary break from paid employment to fulfil caring duties, such as parental leave, and for full-time carers who are permanently out of the workforce. This should include considering things like caring credits on superannuation, but also bolder reforms, like a universal basic income.

We know that, so often, for older women, the reward for a lifetime of care is retiring to poverty. And surely, in this nation, we can do better than that.


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