How gender-responsive was the 2021 budget?

Update: read our full budget analysis here

After the recent outcry demanding for justice and a response to sexual violence, domestic violence & a COVID19 recovery plan that includes women, the Government delivered the 2021 budget – one that has been touted by many as a budget seeking to ‘woo’ the female electorate. Certainly, after a year of the Government wilfully ignoring women’s agenda’s in relation to sexual assault, gender-based violence, and equality in the workplace – the budget appeared to be developed to ‘even out the score-card.’ IThe gender-responsive nature of the 2021 budget has many pointing towards a 2021 election.  However, as Bobbie Trower indicated, Senior Manager – Advocacy at YWCA Australia said, ‘While it was encouraging to see the return of the Women’s Budget Statement and funding boosts to safety, health and wellbeing outcomes, it’s impossible to frame cohorts or issues as winners and losers in the aftermath of the 2021 Federal Budget reveal. Despite being framed as a women-s friendly budget with wins in safety and health the reality is we deserve a better budget. When the Government fails to use intersectional gender-responsive analysis and budgeting we all miss out.’

Exactly how gender-responsive is the 2021 budget?

WINNERS: Patriarchy & Capitalism

Tuesday’s Federal Budget felt last a hasty addition of money to already established programs with little coordination. Many issues were labelled, ‘women’s issues’ which weren’t really just women’s issues at all. Labelling childcare or domestic violence a women’s issues speaks to a bloke-based budget. Should women alone be responsible for the burden or policy “benefit” of childcare or take away from men as overwhelming perpetrators of violence? Less old-fashioned than a denial of reality.

While currently being labelled a gender-responsive budget the 2021 budget was still targeted towards a mythical Australian ‘average’: cis, male, able-bodied, hetero and white.

In practice, intersectional and gender-responsive budgeting is a set of tools and processes that analyse the gender-differentiated impacts of Budget and revenue measures. The aim is for governments to create a Budget for women, but a Budget that equitably distributes the benefits across genders. 

It’s unavoidable to access media in 2021 without being confronted by violence against First Nations people, women and LGBTIQ people, in their homes, in interactions with the police or at work. Moments not marred by horror-like reality are rare in our global movement and it can be difficult to get perspective on looking back and not be amazed by how far public and social consciousness has risen on domestic violence, consent, respectful relationships education, bystander intervention and men’s behaviour change. Sadly, we are far from where we need to be.

A budget delivers positive impacts, but the best budget would address our biggest failings.

LOSERS: Everyone else

Young women and people of marginalised genders

Under-35s account for almost 80% of jobs lost in the past year and more than 200,000 under 25s have been out of work for more than six months, a five-year high for unemployment figure. Growth in demand that can’t be met for mental health support, limited resources and coordination for domestic and family violence and its prevention, coupled with a rent-forever reality, poor climate and First Nations leadership investment and its clear young people are finding it hard to be optimistic about the future in Australia.

‘The lack of meaningful climate action, particularly the lack of funding for renewable energy is a huge concern for young people, and will continue to harm both the mental health of young Australians and is putting their long-term physical safety in danger. The budget also failed to fund the flexible workforce strategy, which disability activists were calling for. It was a great improvement from last year but it’s underwhelming knowing what we could have done with gender-responsive budgeting’

– Bri, ERA YWAG member

The Government have committed $1.1 billion for initiatives to prevent and respond to and support victims of family, domestic and sexual violence in 2021-22. As a women’s specialist service and part of an expert sector, evidence shows, even when doubled this is still only a quarter of the investment needed to provide support for everyone that needs it.

Prevention efforts seen by investments in campaigns is positive when these campaigns are co-designed with young people. They know what works, and what Titanic reference to drop because a young person isn’t a 37-year-old elder millennial holding onto their pop culture references like Governments holding onto outdated versions of how to build a better budget.  Without urgent social and systemic change how can these prevention campaigns be coordinated and be driven outside of schools? For young people looking at our Government they see workplaces, including Parliament as maybe more of a prevention focus area… among many other community settings.

Economic and social recovery during a pandemic needs resourcing

Women, especially young women and people of marginalised genders have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been more likely to have lost jobs or hours of work, they are doing more unpaid care and household work, they are more likely to have accessed already gender-pay gap-impacted superannuation, and many are experiencing violence, or realising due to public conversations on sexual assault, that they too have experienced violence, at home or at work.  1 in 3 is not what we see. There was hope that the budget would respond to the collective activism and advocacy driven by young women that resulted in the March4Justice. It has been powerful and yet traumatic for many seeing young women’s experiences as catalysts for change. There has also been an outpouring of support for First Nations women activism and the centering of compounding harm of colonisation and related drivers of violence .

It has been positive to see a funding boosts to specialist legal support like Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Women’s Legal Services, Family Advocacy Support Services, and the continuation of critical supports like the Men’s Referral Service but it isn’t enough. A fall in funding for international aid, investment falling far short for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence delayed and modest childcare relief delayed until 2022 speaks volumes to what the Government deems a priority now and into the future.

We’re not alone in wanting a better Budget. The Equality Rights Alliance, one of six national Women’s Alliances and their 64 NGO and social enterprise members (a coalition of gender equality advocates and organisations) lay this out in their pre-budget submission:

 ‘It is imperative that Australia’s Federal Budget is responsive to the gendered nature of the COVID-19 crisis and is designed to optimise the role gender equality can play in Australia’s economic recovery.’

Housing insecurity and Homelessness

As an organisation with a historical lens on housing affordability, it wasn’t so long ago that YWCA was helping women to access housing because they couldn’t do so without a husband. When there are more snakes than ladders on the Monopoly board of life its easy to do the maths that very few single mothers will be able to afford to take on a 98 percent mortgage.

Owning a home in a city an increasingly in regional hotspots, is a pipe dream for most young women who don’t have access to intergenerational wealth. The evidence is clear – without significantly more safe, affordable and accessible housing, an increase in Jobseeker payment and a National Housing Strategy, it’s unlikely we will see any shifts in the gendered nature of safety and housing.

$61.4 million this year (and $124.7 over two years) has been added to the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement – the amount needed to just cover the existing workforce and not taking into account the increasing numbers of people who experience income inequality, denying safe, affordable homes. Holding the line here feels like a relief rather than a win.

Jobseeker payments are overwhelmingly accessed by women and are inadequate to survive on in Australia, how can you keep a roof over your head?  No sign of investment in social and affordable housing as a critical gender-responsive social infrastructure measure that would seek to address the disappearing Commonwealth National Rental Affordability Scheme and the lack of safe, affordable and accessible homes available is terrifying.

‘What we need is a clear plan and appropriately funded measures for long term benefits & structural reform, especially in the areas of safety and prevention and housing’ 

– Shaylee Leach, YWCA’s Young Women’s Council 

Join YWCA’s CBF and calls for the Government to commit to an intersectional and gender-responsive budget.

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