Migrants, refugees & women with disabilities shortchanged by the budget

Migrants, refugees and women with disabilities all shortchanged by the federal budget

After the 2020 Federal budget landed, we saw a rapid, robust response highlighting the ways in which the budget failed to “deliver for women”.

The response coalesced under the #CredibleWomen hashtag, which was inspired by a call Women’s Agenda’s own Georgie Dent received from a staffer in the PM’s office, who had taken issue with her piece highlighting the budget’s shortcomings in regard to women. “No one credible”, he told Dent, was making that argument.

What followed is now history. In the days and weeks following the budget, many “credible women” came to Dent’s defence, and  #CredibleWomen continued to trend on social media. Issues like women’s economic security, particularly the fact that older women are now, alarmingly, the fastest growing portion of the homeless population over the age of 55, were highlighted.  

The #CredibleWomen debate also elevated the issue of childcare, and the extent to which the pandemic has exposed its inextricable link to women’s workforce participation rates. Women’s ability to do paid work is directly linked to many women’s ability to access affordable childcare, and it is crucial to their ability to save and safeguard their economic security.

And, of course the “bloke-covery” — the noticeable concentration of stimulus measures in male dominated industries, such as construction, with little or nothing for female dominated industries — was the subject of much #crediblewomen chatter.

Suffice to say, a certain staffer probably now regrets “that” call.

As part of Women’s Agenda’s ongoing eight part series looking at the gendered impacts of the pandemic (funded by the generous support of the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas), we wanted to get a sense of the extent to which those headline debates and the ways in which the budget was seen to “fail women” resonated with a diversity of women – women with disabilities, migrant and refugee women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Women” are not a homogenous group — nor should they be treated as such.

We reached out to a number of experts, many of whom contributed to the National Foundation for Australian Women’s Gender Lens on the budget. Over the next few days, Women’s Agenda will publish edited extracts from those interviews.

Saba Ashraf, Senior Policy Officer, Harmony Alliance

The issues that are most important to migrant and refugee women, the issues that were excluded from the budget, are similar to the “mainstream” issue of economic security. It’s probably one of the biggest issues.

Migrant and refugee women are over-represented in casual, part time, and precarious service industry jobs, including in the caring industry. When we don’t talk about the fact that these industries are made up of certain cohorts of people — who is contributing, who is going to be the worst effected, who is the first to face discrimination when things start to get rough — that’s where the challenge comes in. How do we continue talking about the important issues, but also continue talking about all the people who make up those industries? That’s a key issue for us.

For example, the income support measures that were announced leave a whole group of migrant and refugee women out, including women on temporary visas in precarious jobs. They were among the first to lose their jobs. In advance of the budget, there were major questions about how the budget would support these women, who are affected by economic insecurity far more than other women.

When you look at this with an intersectional lens, what it comes down to is that economic insecurity impacts women in lower paid, precarious industries more than most. But within that cohort of women, women who have a complicated visa status are impacted even more because the income support and safety net measures that have been available to other women are not available to them. They are falling through the cracks. They don’t have the same sort of “safety net” that other women can draw on in these circumstances.

If they are living in this country, if they are stuck here because of the pandemic and cannot leave, they should get income support.

That’s the sort of thing we would have liked to see in the budget, because at least that would bring migrant and refugee women up to some level as other women. It won’t bridge all the gaps and disadvantages, but it bridges some of the extra, extra disadvantage. We need to bring them up to at least the same level as other women before we start talking about ‘all’ women’s issues.

Dr Trishima Mitra-Kahn, Director- Policy and Programs, Women With Disabilities Australia

The broader issue of women’s economic security did resonate with disabled women, but we have a particular perspective about what was “missing” from the budget that would have helped address the challenges we face.

The budget as a missed opportunity for disabled women because — for a budget that was seemingly focused on a “job-based recovery” — there wasn’t any consideration of disabled women’s experiences.

The labour force participation of women with disability cannot be achieved without an understanding of, and targeted measures to address, the underlying structural barriers to disabled women’s workforce participation. Women with disability need, and have a right to, specific, targeted measures to dismantle the many structural barriers that impede our right to economic participation — and to an adequate standard of living.

For example, the NDIS Participant Employment Strategy 2019 – 2022,  which sets out how the NDIA will take action to make sure more NDIS participants achieve meaningful participation in our economy, is completely ungendered, despite the fact that there has been no improvement in the labour force participation rates of women with disability in Australia for over two decades.

Discrimination sits at the heart of disability employment issues. The budget fails to recognise that. Complaints about discrimination in employment make up a significant proportion of all disability discrimination complaints made to Australian anti-discrimination agencies.

Yes, the Australian Government does have a number of employment programs aimed at increasingthe participation of people with disability in employment. One of these is the Disability Employment Services (DES) Program, which was designed to support people with disability to find work in the open labour market. But research undertaken by WWDA has found that DES has made no difference to employment outcomes for women with disability. In fact, many women with disability have described experiencing direct and indirect discrimination by DES providers.

What’s more, the budget did not recognise that women with disability throughout Australia bear a disproportionate burden of poverty.

Nothing in the budget’s economic measures will help lift disabled women out of poverty. The budget failed to acknowledge that Government pensions are the main source of personal income for 42% of people with disability of working age. Paid employment is a benchmark for financial security, but in circumstances where many women with disability have either no, sporadic or minimal opportunities to engage in paid work throughout their adult life, a government provided, broadly based, financial safety net is essential to their economic security. The budget did not provide that.

To address these issues, we would have like to see a national, targeted jobs plan for disabled people, particularly women. And a permanent increase to social security payments, including to The Disability Support Pension (DSP).

Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica

This is part seven of a series of pieces Kristine Ziwica is producing on how COVID-19 is impacting women in Australia. The series is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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