Households with female main breadwinners twice as likely to live in poverty

Australian households with children & a female main income earner are twice as likely to live in poverty

New analysis shows more than a third of single mothers and their children live in poverty - and these results were before COVID19.

Even before COVID-19 households with children with a female main income earner were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those where the main income earner was male. New analysis, released on Thursday, highlights the impact of caring roles on poverty in Australia as well as the inadequacy of pre-COVID payments for people who are unemployed.

The Poverty in Australia 2020: Part 2 – Who is affected? report, released by the Australian Council of Social Service and UNSW Sydney, compares the impact of poverty on different people in the community, broken down by age, family type, income source, and labour market and housing status.

It includes estimates of poverty among people with disabilities and those from culturally and ethnically diverse communities. The report, which analyses Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 2017-18, provides a baseline against which to measure the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on poverty in Australia.

‘This report exposes the disproportionate impact of poverty on households in which women are the main income earners. These households are twice as likely to live in poverty as those in which men are the main income earners with the gap even higher in households with children,’ Australian Council of Social Service Acting CEO, Jacqueline Phillips, says. “Disturbingly, more than a third of single mothers and their children are living in poverty (37%). The challenges faced by single mothers that lead to so many being on low incomes have serious implications for the wellbeing of those women and their children.”

Given the early indications that women have been suffering some of the worst economic impacts of the current pandemic, effective policy action is needed to ensure this does not translate into an ongoing reduction in female employment or an increase in poverty amongst women and children.

“A snapback on childcare or income support risks trapping single mothers and their children in poverty,” Phillips says.

Poverty rates vary a great deal among different groups because of the three main drivers of poverty: access to employment, the level of public income support available to people with low or no incomes, and housing costs.

“People who were unemployed were at greatest risk of poverty, with two-thirds of affected households living below the poverty line, highlighting the gross inadequacy of the $40 a day unemployment payment pre-COVID,” Phillips says. “The doubling of JobSeeker as part of the COVID-19 response has transformed people’s lives. The Government must now ensure that the pathway out of the pandemic is also a pathway out of poverty by setting a permanent income floor above the poverty line.”

Renters are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as home-owners with public housing tenants at greatest risk. The very high proportion of public housing tenants living in poverty reflects the disadvantage they face, the highly targeted nature of public housing and the low rates of income support payments pre-pandemic.

Permanently lifting social security payments above poverty levels, boosting jobs growth, investing in social housing and ensuring that childcare is available for all families who need it for the

“This report shows the impact that a lack of paid work and having to rely on income support has on poverty, duration of the economic recovery and beyond will reduce poverty,” the report’s lead researcher, UNSW Sydney Associate Professor Dr Bruce Bradbury, says. “The high poverty rates among income support recipients in 2017-18 point to what will happen to a much wider section of the population if the current COVID-19 income support payments cease in September without an adequate replacement.”

“As of January 2018, the single rate of Newstart (plus rent assistance) was $117 below the disposable income poverty line ($185pw if they did not receive Rent Assistance). Consequently, around two thirds of households where the reference person was unemployed were in poverty after taking account of housing costs. Similarly, more than half of households reliant on Parenting Payment were below the poverty line.

The pension increase in 2009, together with home ownership, mean that only 10% of people aged 65 and above were living below the poverty line. However, among older renters, 41% had incomes after housing costs which were below the poverty line.

“This report shines a light on those groups most at risk of poverty in Australia and reveals its disproportionate impact on women and children and those who are not currently in paid work,” Professor Carla Treloar, Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney, says. “The question is, now that we have the data, what will we do to provide the safety net that’s needed to lift these households out of poverty?

“We can see in recent months how doubling unemployment payments has dramatically improved life for people who have lost their jobs.  It’s clear we must continue the action on income support, and devise solutions on housing and job creation to lift more people out of poverty.”

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox