SUSAN RYAN. The impact of the 2018 Budget on women. It is most notable for its omissions.

The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) each year prepares an analysis of the impacts of the federal budget on women. Since the Coalition government abandoned the practice of including a Women’s Budget Statement in the official Budget documents, a policy-oriented women’s NGO, the NFAW,  has prepared this work.  This extract gives an overview of the impacts of the budget on older women.

The clearest impact of this budget in relation to older women is this: for women home owners, there are potential benefits. For women who don’t own their home, there are few if any measures of potential assistance

Starting with the main potential benefit:  14,000 extra aged care-in-the-home packages worth $1. 6 billion are provided. These packages will be allocated to some of those people eligible for high care, that is, to a relatively modest proportion of them. The waiting list for these packages is more than 100,000. There is no news about how long those in need and assessed as eligible will have to wait.

Women with insecure accommodation or homeless will have no opportunity to receive such a package. To receive home care services, you need a home where they can be delivered. It seems the 14,000 packages will be funded by shifting funds from the residential aged care program.

The contradiction here is that if older women need home care, but are left without it over a period, their health may deteriorate to the point when they may be assessed as eligible for residential care. This care costs the Commonwealth twice as much as home-based care. When this happens there are no savings, only additional budget costs. Residential care is currently not overprovided, and the system is dealing with scandals and poor practice which will cost to remediate.

Extension of the Pension Loan Scheme to all age pensioners and self-funded retirees potentially assists those who own a home and could take a loan against it to receive an income stream to add their pension, capped to provide 150% of the pension. The scheme is run by the Commonwealth Department of Human Services. The interest rate is fair. The cap means that only part of the equity would be drawn down, so substantial equity remains with the owner.

The risks here in contrast to perceived risks with commercial reverse mortgage loans are low. This loan arrangement would suit those who own a home and can manage such a loan. Again, for those with no home to provide the loan, there is no assistance. Pensioners who must rent are the poorest and most vulnerable to homelessness. The pensioner rent allowance was not increased. No action was taken to improve the supply of affordable rental housing.

Assisting pensioners who have substantial assets, from July 2019, for those pensioners who are able and wish to invest in annuities or “pooled income streams”, only 60% of payments from such schemes will be assessed as income and assets in relation to eligibility for the age pension. This measure has no relevance to the very poor living on Newstart or the age pension only and forced to rent.

For older women still attached to the workforce, new assistance for midlife retraining could assist them to return to the workforce after caring for a family member or being sacked, or to get their skills updated to keep or gain a job. If such women cannot secure stable employment, they will have to live on Newstart until they reach 65 and 6 months, the current eligibility point for age precision. Living for  ten years on Newstart and inadequate rent allowance would reduce many of these women to homelessness and mental illness.

An employer subsidy of $10,000 to employ older people may be used to encourage hiring of older women.

Personal income tax cuts will provide those earning up to $90,000 between $4 and $10 per week. This tax rebate, when it comes, would assist those employed women with low to middle incomes.

The increase in the threshold of part-time earnings by pensioners before pension reduction starts, up to $17,000 without impacting on the pension, will assist those older female pensioners who are able to get some casual work.

The abolition of superannuation exit fees will assist older women who have some super.

Support for older people establishing start-up businesses may assist some older women with suitable skills and background.

Funds for Indigenous housing in remote areas of the Northern Territory should benefit some older Indigenous women.

New mental health support for older people in residential care, $82.5m over four years, may assist women where the services are provided.

The most glaring omission is the absence of measures to increase affordable accommodation for older women. The growth in homelessness and insecure accommodation amongst older women has been extensively documented and is already estimated to be some hundreds of thousands. Advocates and providers had been hoping for federal initiatives to replace the National Rental Affordability Scheme, and a strategy to partner with states to significantly increase funds available for social and community housing for older women. This did not happen.

Another major omission is the absence of a national plan to develop an appropriately trained and paid age care workforce in large enough numbers to meet the dramatic growth in aged care services.

The proposed seven-year reduction of personal income tax for high earners will reduce revenue available to meet health and care needs of growing cohorts of older people.

Susan Ryan AO was Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women in the Hawke cabinet 1983-88.  In 2016, as Age Discrimination Commissioner, she conducted a national inquiry into employment discrimination against older people and people with disability.

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