Pre-budget brief: ‘The government must ensure that people aren’t left behind’
10 May 2021 at 6:24 pm
Cassandra Goldie provides a run through of what the Australian Council of Social Service is looking for in this week’s federal budget.
As we head towards the federal budget, First Nations leaders are still being left to call for action to stop deaths in custody; to end the mass imprisonment of First Nations people, including children; to Close the Gap; and for a constitutionally guaranteed Voice to Parliament. The government needs to address First Nations leaders’ calls immediately, in the budget and ongoing.
Not only does this budget come in the wake of powerful calls from First Nations leaders for action, it’s also being delivered in the context of a global pandemic. While we are fortunate to be in a far better situation than many globally, nonetheless we are seeing a two-speed economic recovery, driven to a large extent by federal government policy settings. On one hand we have record numbers of people looking for a job or more hours, with female-dominated industries worst affected by job losses. On the other, people on higher incomes, who are mostly men, are receiving damaging tax cuts, which hamper our ability to fund essential services, and give extra dollars to people who already have enough. The government needs to reset its federal budget, if it is to create a fairer future and truly deliver for women.
The government’s cuts to income support, which put working-age payments back well below the poverty line, have mostly impacted women, including 300,000 single parents, and older women who make up the majority of people on JobSeeker over 45. If the government is to help those most in need, it needs to ensure all income support payments, including JobSeeker, are above the poverty line. It also needs to extend income support to people on temporary visas, who have been completely excluded from our social security safety net in the midst of a global pandemic. Importantly, the government needs to deal with the racism and discrimination against women inherent in our social security system, evidenced by the cashless debit card which discriminates against First Nations people, and the ParentsNext program, which targets single mothers.
We need to see an end to the stigma and demonisation of people who are unemployed. There’s only one job for every seven people looking, and many people report being discriminated against due to disability or age. Despite this, the government is imposing harsh conditions for people on JobSeeker, which business says don’t make sense and which make people’s lives harder when they need support to train and find suitable paid work.
The government must ensure that people aren’t left behind as we recover from the multiple impacts of COVID. Instead of just sending them off to apply for 20 jobs a month with very little chance of success, the 700,000 people who have had to rely on unemployment payments for more than a year should be guaranteed a paid work placement, vocational training, and other help they may need to improve their employment prospects.
As we enter this budget, eviction moratoriums have lifted in many states and territories, leaving people to grapple with rental debts accumulated over 2020 and to face homelessness. We have a gross shortage of social housing in this country, which the budget must address. In doing so, it must ensure social housing is energy efficient as we know far too many are heading into winter unable to turn on the heater. 2020 saw a stark increase in energy debts and we’re calling for the budget to provide an emergency payment for people struggling to pay their energy bills.
It’s clear that financial distress and the threat of homelessness makes it harder for women to escape domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Crisis Payment averages just $331, which is totally inadequate to help women trying to escape. We’re calling for it to be lifted to $1,900 so women can cover upfront expenses like a rental bond. We are also backing the calls of women’s groups for proper investment in the national plan to reduce violence against women of at least $1 billion per year.
We’ve welcomed the government’s commitment to reducing unemployment below 5 per cent. A more ambitious approach is both possible and necessary to reduce financial hardship and get the incomes of the majority of people growing again. Tax cuts and investment incentives won’t do much to grow jobs and incomes. Each job generated by the tax cuts is estimated by Treasury to cost $475,000. Much of the planned public investment focuses on male-dominated sectors like roads (with each job costing about $300,000). Yet there are huge unmet needs in female-dominated care services, including aged care, childcare and community services, where the need is acute and where many more jobs can be created for the expenditure required (about $90,000 to $50,000 per job, depending on which sector). We are calling for the budget to generate decent, new jobs in the community service sector, which is made up of 80 per cent women. This is vital to properly resourcing important services like aged care, disability, mental health, homelessness and domestic violence services. As a first step, $2 billion per year should be invested in community services in order to reverse the cuts seen since the 2014 budget and respond to growth in population and increases in the cost of delivering services.
On top of addressing the yawning gaps in community services, the budget needs to equip us as a community to handle the other big challenges we face together. This includes working with communities to effectively roll out the vaccine as we continue to deal with the ongoing COVID crisis. We’re calling for the government to develop and fund a partnership approach between government and community organisations delivering health promotion and education on COVID-19 prevention, testing, vaccination and isolation. And, of course, we continue to grapple with the climate crisis – many people have still not recovered from the devastating bushfires last year and others have had to deal with extreme floods and cyclones. We’ve put forward a proposal for local community resilience hubs and are calling for a review of insurance affordability.
Reducing the budget deficit is not the priority. In future, to guarantee quality services, such as disability and health services, governments will need to strengthen public revenues. For a start, the government should drop its high-end income tax cuts which would see tens of thousands of dollars more go to people earning hundreds of thousands, who are mostly men. We’re warning the government against even more tax cuts in the federal budget – the lowest 30 per cent of households by income, including many single parent families, mostly headed up by women, get absolutely no benefit at all from any tax cuts. Permanent improvements in services (such as aged care) should be paid for by reforming tax shelters that mainly benefit high income earners (such as the tax-free status of superannuation investment income post-retirement).
These are some of the key issues we’ll be discussing in our Post-Budget Event. We hope you can join the discussion from 12pm – 2.30pm AEST, Tuesday 18 May.