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Who the Budget forgot

Lucy Dean
·8-min read
Pictured: Australian public school students, JobSeekers waiting outside Centrelink, Australian woman with children. Images: Getty
Public schools, JobSeekers and women were left behind in the 2020 Budget. Images: Getty

Politicians, clean energy advocates and social services groups have blasted the 2020 Budget as a “shocking” failure, amid record unemployment and financial distress.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the Budget leaves “too many people behind”, while speaking to Sunrise on Wednesday morning.

He noted that the wage subsidy leaves workers older than 35 at a distinct disadvantage, and that this is something that will affect Australian women particularly hard.

“If you are over the age of 35, you will lose your wage subsidy in March,” Albanese said.

“You’ll be competing for a job with someone under 35 who is being subsidised for work,” he continued.

“If you are a woman… there is nothing really there to support you, and it is almost like it was an afterthought,” he said.

Albanese isn’t alone in his criticism. Here’s what the Budget forgot:

Women

They make up half the population, but a comparatively meagre $240.4 million was set aside for women’s economic security, at a time when female workers have borne the brunt of the job cuts. At nearly 6 million women in the workforce, that equates to roughly $40 per female worker.

According to the Financy Women’s Index, of the 19 sectors hardest hit by coronavirus, women made up most of the cuts in 14. And while the funding includes support for 500 cadetships and leadership programs, advocates and experts have blasted it as inadequate.

“The Government should be applauded for injecting the economy with the largest fiscal stimulus the country has ever seen. These measures will go a long way in cushioning the economic fall-out from the crisis, and generating jobs. But in a stimulus package running into the hundreds of billions, a mere $240 million of specific programs for women is underwhelming,” Global Sisters CEO Mandy Richards said.

Global Sisters works with marginalised and at risk women to boost their financial security through business.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey agreed, calling for the Government to apply a ‘gender lens’ to the stimulus measures.

“It’s particularly disappointing that the Government did not look at childcare reform to broaden access to affordable, high-quality early education as this is one of the most effective ways to support the economic recovery and improve women’s workforce participation,” she said.

She said the Government needs to tackle systemic weaknesses in the childcare, aged care, affordable housing and disability care sectors to boost women’s economic participation.

Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson went so far as to describe it as a “slap in the face” for nurses, childhood educators and teachers who received no recognition for their frontline work during the pandemic.

Social housing

While the Budget included support for first home buyers building or buying new properties, support for social housing was scant.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey described this as a “shocking” oversight given the national homelessness crisis.

“Prioritising ending homelessness in Australia still isn’t being taken seriously at a national level,” Toomey said.

“This year has been incredibly challenging for Australia’s most vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness and poverty. We are deeply concerned that high levels of unemployment, the reduction in the Coronavirus Supplement rate and the huge debts in rent deferrals that some people are accruing will lead to a huge spike in housing insecurity and homelessness.”

He said the Government urgently needs to invest in 30,000 social homes over the next four years, adding that this will not only address a vital social need but boost the construction industry.

JobSeeker recipients

The Budget includes $500 cash payments for aged, carer and disability pensioners but missed an opportunity to support unemployed Australians in a meaningful way, Australian Council of Social Services CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“The Federal Budget had failed to deliver a permanent, adequate JobSeeker rate. It leaves more than two million people receiving higher income support uncertain about their future beyond the end of the year, when income support rates will go to their pre-COVID levels – which, for JobSeeker, was $40 a day,” Goldie said.

She said unemployed Australians also won’t receive any benefit from the tax cuts, given they have no taxable income.

“People without paid work will see no benefit from the income tax cuts brought forward in today’s budget, which mainly go to people who are lucky enough to have jobs, with the largest amounts going to people on higher incomes. There is also no income support in this budget for people on temporary visas, who have been left behind in the pandemic.”

Older workers

The wage subsidy scheme could well incentivise employers to ditch older workers in favour for younger, cheaper workers.

According to Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, this could leave as many as 928,000 workers over 35 at a disadvantage.

In a statement, Chalmers said these Australians have been “deliberately excluded” from the $200 weekly hiring subsidies.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Earlier this year, the Government, the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations and the Australian Local Government Association formed a partnership to establish 16 new targets to address the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

This represented a doubling in the size of the targets and a renewed focus on education, justice, health and languages.

Despite this, the Government committed no new funding to closing the gap in the Budget. The Budget also did not feature funding for a possible referendum on Indigenous recognition.

Renewable energy

The Federal Budget had little new funding for environmental protection or renewable energy commitments.

The Australian Farmers for Climate Action movement described this as a missed opportunity, particularly for rural Australians.

“A clean, renewables-led recovery could have put the Australian economy on a more solid and sustainable path to recovery, tackling the pandemic and the rising risks of climate change at the same time,” CEO Wendy Cohen said.

“The federal government has failed to meet the moment with this budget, with the smattering of climate-smart initiatives swamped by the billions in taxpayers’ subsidies for gas and other fossil fuels.”

Refugees

The 2020 Budget cut Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program by 5,000 places a year while also halving its financial assistance program for people seeking asylum.

“The Morrison Government has joined the Trump administration in the United States in cutting refugee resettlement at a time when millions of refugees in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America live in dire circumstances made much worse by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) chief executive Paul Power said.

Public school students

The Australian Education Union (AEU) said the Budget fails public schools, noting that the $19 billion shortfall between current and minimum funding remains unchanged.

“Thousands of public schools across the country are in critical need of infrastructure improvement and yet since 2017 public schools have been denied federal funds. In contrast this budget sees the continuation of the $1.9 billion set aside for private schools over the next ten years,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

“If Scott Morrison considers public school infrastructure to be wasteful, what does he make of his own government handing billions of dollars to high fee private schools for second swimming pools, mock medieval libraries and retractable orchestra pits.”

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi echoed that, noting that private schools will ultimately receive $19 billion more than public schools over the coming years.

For more Yahoo Finance stories on the 2020 Federal Budget, visit here.

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