Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Budget enshrines neglect of older women



Each year since the 2014-15 federal budget, the government has published its spending data in a file that can be used to make the budget searchable. Most reporting focuses on the short-term winners and losers through cuts or increases in spending. These announcements are usually all the public hears about the budget and the politicians probably like it this way as the lack of context allows them to score political points.

Close-up image of older woman's eye. (Rhys Hayward / Getty Creative)After all, if people knew that the latest spending announcement constituted less than one per cent of the overall budget spend (as 414 of this year's programs do) would it sound so impressive? One of the fascinating elements of working with the budget data is the understanding it provides of the relative size of various programs.

Each year there are over 400 programs in the federal budget and most people, regardless of their educational background, have no idea which of those programs constitutes a significant proportion of the total cost, or which are a fraction of a percentage. However, there are lessons in this type of analysis that need to be heeded if, as a country, we are going to face up to future funding issues.

The ABC 7.30 Report has been running a series on superannuation, featuring retirees who are not able to rely on superannuation and must fall back on the age pension. Featured prominently throughout, former federal treasurer Peter Costello states that if people want to be fully independent of government and not rely on the age pension, they will need to put money into super above and beyond the compulsory system for their entire working lives.

The budget data is useful in providing context around this issue. A simple listing of the budget programs by size highlights a little-known fact that Income Support for Seniors (which is essentially the age pension) alone constitutes over eight per cent of the whole budget spend. In fact, it is the second biggest spending item in the budget, eclipsed only by the GST (General Revenue Assistance) collected by the federal government for distribution to the states.

The GST provides around half of the funding spent by state and territory governments who also shoulder responsibility for emergency services, health, housing and education. That gives you an idea of just how much money, comparatively speaking, goes into funding the age pension.

The reason this is important is because we have an ageing population. It is now becoming obvious that despite a compulsory superannuation system, many Australians will end up reliant on the age pension. Given that the age pension is already such a large cost relative to other programs, when the ratio between those of working age and those who are not increases with the ageing of the population, this has obvious implications for whether or not we will be able to fund the age pension in decades to come.


"This disparity has begun to show up in the form of homelessness, with older women now constituting the fastest growing demographic in need of shelter."


It will be women as a group who are hit hardest by any shortfall in government welfare. 'The system, I think, has failed working women and one of the big flaws of the system is not recognising that inequity in the original design of the system,' says Paul Howes, KPMG's partner in charge of wealth management. Women are particularly poorly served by the compulsory superannuation system due to the unpaid work we do raising families. This disparity has begun to show up in the form of homelessness, with older women now constituting the fastest growing demographic in need of shelter.

The National Foundation for Australian Women provides excellent summaries highlighting the lack of effort to resolve gender equality gap in budget priorities. The impact on older women states:

'Measured against the priorities for older women that we have identified, the 2019 budget contains very little to improve the circumstances of the poorest older women. The increases of 10,000 home care places announced in February are provided for along with an extra 13,500 residential places. An extra $8.4 million is allocated to mandatory reporting against quality indicators in residential aged care.

'Tax changes are of little import to older women living on pensions. They could provide only a slight benefit to those older women who earn some income. One-off energy payments of $75 for an individual or $125 for a couple will reach pensioners and carers. For an elder abuse hotline $18 million is re-announced. Over ten years $185 million will be allocated to establish a dementia, ageing and aged care research program. The crisis in housing affordability, unaffordable rents and homelessness among older women is not addressed.'

Women's groups were initially cut out of this year's budget lockup with just two representatives admitted after fighting tooth-and-nail for the privilege. With such hostility to our cause it is hardly surprising to find the budget holds little hope for women in resolving the structural inequalities baked into our lives.



Rosie WilliamsRosie Williams is an investigative and technology journalist with a strong interest in inequality and civil rights. She has a degree in sociology and significant experience with poverty due to a lifetime of disadvantage.

Main image: Rhys Hayward / Getty Creative

Topic tags: Rosie Williams, Budget 2019, election 2019



submit a comment

Existing comments

The obvious and fatuous comment by Costello that people who want to live independently should put more into superannuation over a lifetime, is not only belied by the uncompensated but socially essential caring roles that prevent women from doing just that. But Lib/Nat politicians blocked this remedy for many, when they severely restricted the partial aged pension thus making affected seniors of quite modest means even more dependent on a few tax franking credits. Now Labour will ,when elected , remove this income. Formerly independent seniors will thus fall into poverty. Is no one looking at such unintended , counterproductive consequences ?

jpb | 15 April 2019  

I am in my 80's. Women alone in older age in earlier times were looked after by their families. I cannot think of any family that would have countenanced an elderly female relative being homeless. It would have been shameful! What has changed?

Jennifer Raper | 18 April 2019  

Similar Articles

Palm Sunday Refugee Rally

  • ES Staff
  • 14 April 2019

'Let's march together for justice today, and then beyond today, until we've restored justice for refugees.' We spoke to some of the people at today’s Palm Sunday march for refugees in Melbourne. Tens of thousands turned out at events throughout Australia.


Beware the election campaign hobgoblins

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 10 April 2019

The American writer H. L. Mencken said the aim of politics is 'to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary'. Over the years there have been many hobgoblins of varying sizes and shapes, and this election campaign promsies to be no different.