One in three women in Australia retire with no super. Let that sink in for a moment.
To add salt to the wounds of women, a literal day after more than 100,000 people marched for an end to gendered violence and inequality in Australia, the Morrison Government announces that survivors of family and domestic violence can now strip up to $10,000 from their retirement savings to *fund their own crisis response*.
Ok, now we’re really pissed.
At Ladies Talk Money, we’ve spent the last few years exploring the deep financial inequalities in this country, including in our superannuation system that sets women up for a future of financial disadvantage.
We’ve published countless videos, articles and guides outlining the disastrous effect of these patriarchal structures, highlighting how they impact and compound over a lifetime creating the frighteningly high number of older women experiencing homelessness or living in poverty in Australia.
So, why are we so enraged?
This policy is lazy at best, and a lifelong sentence of financial disadvantage at worst.
Making survivors of domestic and family violence (the majority of which are women) fund their own survival and escape by pilfering from their future economic safety net is a grossly inadequate response. This isn’t the kind of Australia we want to live in, and our government needs to do better.
On that note, we have a thing or ten to say to you Prime Minister Morrison and Minister for (though we’ve seen little evidence of it so far) Women, Marise Payne, that you seem to have forgotten.
The current reality
- Over half a million women (and counting) withdrew money from their already scarily low super balances during the pandemic, leaving many of us with little left over to consider withdrawing now.
- As we highlighted at the top, this announcement completely ignores the fact that 1 in 3 women have no super at all, meaning a third of women are totally left behind before the policy even goes to print.
- It is tone-deaf to the economic realities that women from diverse, migrant or First Nations backgrounds who are overrepresented in casual employment and unpaid work, who more frequently face discriminatory hiring practices, and who continue to earn even less than white women.
In fact, a recent report by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Women’s Alliance revealed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience significantly lower rates of employment (42%) than non-Indigenous women (69%), which diminishes their ability to accrue super, and leaving almost all First Nations women to rely entirely on the Age Pension by the time they reach 67. We can talk about stolen wages and intergenerational poverty another time, or leave it to women who do it far better than we do.
- It assumes that all of us (no matter our age or circumstance) have a spare $10K of super to even withdraw, which is certainly not the case. In many cases, it would likely deplete almost our entire super balances.
- Our patriarchal society and heteronormative family structures mean that the work of men continues to take priority over women. That means men are still seen as the ‘breadwinner’, while women’s work continues to be dismissed and devalued.
- Patriarchal gender norms continue to assume that women will play the primary caring role. 72% of all unpaid work in Australia is completed by women and this unpaid work is not only never done but it impacts our capacity to participate in paid employment, and further reduces our ability to grow our super balance.
- Feminised industries (such as healthcare, social work and education) and industries dominated by women tend to attract lower wages, and therefore negatively impact our super.
- Women who survive domestic or family violence also face a unique set of financial challenges, not to mention that a lack of financial independence can prohibit women’s ability to leave. Plus, those who do leave face an uncertain future with 18-23% of single parent households shown to be living below the poverty line.
- Women are also overrepresented in part-time and casual employment or working a number of jobs simultaneously, with 67.2% part-time workers women. In many cases, this means our employers are playing less into our super (or not contributing on our behalf at all). Plus, over a quarter of all female employees are casual (many, many juggling a number of jobs at the same time), living on low wages with no certainty of regular hours or opportunity for career growth or progression. These factors compound to mean the average salary for women is just $44,000.
- For older women, the concept of super is something that only came along part-way through their working lives. Many women were already working and established in their careers long before the introduction of super, or many were part of the informal (and unpaid) workforce and caring force, operating under the assumption that the Age Pension would be enough to live on, which sadly we know that it is not.
There’s no getting around the fact that super and retirement are concepts created by men, to preference the interests of men and we know all too well that a man is not a financial plan.
All of this adds up to one thing: we don’t need more policies that are going to further decimate our super balances and compromise our ability to live comfortably, independently, or leave violent relationships.
We need urgent reform of the superannuation system itself.
Ways to bridge the super gap for women
We know this all seems incredibly “doom and gloom”, but it doesn’t have to be the case.
Right now, we’re seeing the power of collective action and truth-telling of women like Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Sue-Anne Hunter and Jess Hill, who build on the tireless work of many women who have gone before them. Indeed, this week’s March4Justice has called out, in no uncertain terms, the system inequality we all experience, and shattered the shame, guilt and stigma that have kept women silent for too long.
There is certainly some value in taking steps to improve our long-term financial horizons by investing, increasing our financial literacy and having hard conversations about money. But the reality is that individual action alone isn’t going to be enough to solve the problem of economic disadvantage for women, nor is it going to shift the responsibility to ‘solve’ this problem from the shoulders of women to the feet of powerful men.
At a policy and government level, systemic change is needed to dismantle and rebuild the systems (such as super) that are keeping women in positions of financial inequality and we look to companies like Verve Super who are leading the charge with campaigns like ‘Make Our Future Fair’.
Changes such as lowering the pension age, increasing the rate of the Age Pension (to keep in-line with the current cost of living) and creating affordable and safe housing communities for women is a practical action that policy-makers can take to make a meaningful difference.
All Mr Morrison and Ms Payne have to do is close their eyes and point, to see clear opportunities for change at a structural level. The change that needs to happen is that far-reaching and that all-encompassing.
But, at the end of the day, by genuinely committing to understanding the true impact of the structural disadvantages that women face and listening to all of our voices on solutions for change, we can start to improve our financial futures. And maybe, just maybe, we will wake up a little less tired and a lot more safe tomorrow.
Hear more from Carmen and Chandel at Ladies Talk Money.