HESTA, the largest superannuation fund dedicated to Australia’s health and community services sector, said it welcomes measures in the Federal Budget aimed at increasing women’s workforce participation but that it was a missed opportunity to improve women’s long-term financial security.
“Our super system has a persisting gender blind spot that sees women retire with almost a third less super than their male counterparts,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.
“Eighty percent of HESTA members are women, and those who raise children continue to pay an unfair financial penalty through inadequate super balances, leaving too many vulnerable to poverty as they age.”
Blakey said there are important reforms Australia’s next Government should deliver in its first term.
These included paying super on Commonwealth paid parental leave and introducing a superannuation carer credit for new parents to help get their super balances back on track following unpaid parental leave.
HESTA acknowledged measures to improve women’s workforce participation will improve retirement outcomes.
These included changes to paid parental leave allowing eligible working parents to share up to 20 weeks of flexible entitlements between them.
This would allow families more choices around sharing child caring responsibilities that will assist women to stay connected to work.
However, fundamental super reforms to improve gender equity are still needed.
Recent HESTA research revealed nine in 10 of the more than 2300 members surveyed strongly agreed that changes were needed in Australia’s super system to boost women’s financial security in retirement.
Almost eight in 10 members supported a super carer credit where the Government makes a super contribution to fill part of the super gap that arises during unpaid parental leave.
“Women predominately take on the primary caring role, making an enormous contribution to our economy and society through raising children,” Blakey said.
“Our super system needs to recognise this by helping new parents get their retirement savings back on track, ensuring they’re not penalised with financial insecurity later in life.”
HESTA members predominately work in the health and community services sectors, almost a quarter of them work in aged care.
While acknowledging significant additional funding for the sector, Blakey said the budget did not deliver measures that would improve financial security for those delivering these critical services.
HESTA member research found poor pay and a lack of career opportunities were some of the top reasons why these members wanted to leave the industry.
The research showed almost a third of the 1500 members surveyed working in aged care said their household income was less than $40,000 p.a.
Nearly 40 per cent were estimated to earn less than $50,000 per annum.
While there were a range of training measures and a $800 bonus for aged care workers announced in the budget, this, HESTA said, is not enough to improve the long-term financial security of those in the sector.
“Improving the quality and sustainability of aged care jobs will improve the financial future of our members working in the sector,” Blakey said.
“And it’s vital to helping attract and retain the skilled and talented people we will need to provide high-quality care for older Australians.
“A strong aged care system is a vital piece of Australia’s social infrastructure that benefits all working Australians who will, at some point either directly or through their loved ones, have to rely on these services.”
Paid Parental Leave changes ‘a step backwards for gender equality’
Dr Leonora Risse, a lecturer in economics at RMIT University, and a research fellow with the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, said the budget’s changes to Paid Parental Leave flexibility is also a step backwards for gender equality.
“International research clearly shows that removing the leave allowance earmarked for fathers results in mothers taking more leave, with little response from fathers,” she said.
“This policy change will have the effect of further entrenching traditional gender roles in Australian households.
“Extending the amount of use-it-or-lose-it paid parental leave for fathers would have been more effective in supporting more men to be a part of their children’s upbringing and more women to extend their workforce participation.
“This policy design is clearly not being guided by the research and evidence.
Risse, who also serves as national chair of the Women in Economics Network, said childcare subsidies, previously announced by the Government, must be accompanied by expansions in workforce capacity, otherwise this risks pushing childcare fees upwards and eroding the quality of care provided by lumping more demand on a sector that is already at capacity and struggling to retain workers.
“But there is little in the budget to support the retention and expansion of the childcare and aged care workforces through better wages and work conditions,” she said.
“The budget splashes a lot of cash across the economy to attempt to relieve costs of living but this higher stimulus adds fuel to inflationary pressures.
“Instead of short-time cost relief, the economy needs long-term investment that expands the country’s productive capacity, through greater investment in research, the health and care workforces, housing supply, digital connectivity, and dismantling the real barriers to women’s economic inclusion.”