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Women have been highly critical of the male dominated focus of the 2020-21 Budget. Although the Budget Speech acknowledged that women were disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fiscal stimulus measures were directed primarily to those areas of the economy that will benefit men.

The services economy, including the care sector, retail and education received little support in the Budget although this is where most female jobs are concentrated. In particular jobs in the care sector are undervalued and employment conditions are precarious, although care workers are looking after some of the most vulnerable in our community.

The 2020-21 Gender Lens on the Budget

Since 2014, when the Abbott Government ceased publishing a Women’s Budget Paper, the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) has brought together a team of policy analysts to examine the effect of the budget on women. The team undertakes a broad analysis across portfolios and applies a gender lens to the key measures. The purpose in applying the gender lens is to acknowledge the different experience of men and women, and to ensure that the budget recognises these differences.

The analysis this year found that most of the big-spending items were not designed with a gender perspective in mind. For example:

  • Job creation though apprenticeships will benefit male dominated areas of employment. The data show that two-thirds of apprenticeships and traineeships are taken up by men. Despite creating two new schemes to support school leavers and jobseekers, the Government has not responded to the Productivity Commission’s interim report on the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, and has not addressed the funding issues in the Vocational Education and Training sector.
  • The design of the personal tax cuts will give employees earning over $120,000 per annum, the majority of whom are male, an immediate increase in take-home pay of nearly $50 per week while employees earning less than $90,000, the majority of whom are female, will receive most of their tax reduction as a tax offset after the end of the financial year.
  • The business tax measures to allow full asset write-offs and enhanced research and development expenditure will be of most value to industries which employ more men than women. Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that in the 2019 year spending on plant, machinery and equipment in the mining, manufacturing and construction sectors was more than 3 times higher than in retail sales and health care and social assistance.
  • Infrastructure spending could have been on projects that create social as well as economic benefits. This Budget was a missed opportunity to fill some of the shortfall in social infrastructure, such as social housing, as well as to create women’s jobs.
  • The ongoing problems in the university sector were not addressed in the Budget. Female students will be disadvantaged by the Jobs Ready Package which, although not a Budget measure as such, will increase the cost of studying courses in the humanities and communications, which have more female than male enrolments. Universities have not received any additional funding to mitigate COVID related job losses, which are expected to fall most heavily on casual academics and professional staff, again weighted to women.

Modelling on the impacts of increased funding in the care sector

This year, to enhance the analysis, NFAW also commissioned modelling from the Centre of Public Studies at Victoria University on the effect of spending in the care sector. Even prior to the COVID economic crisis, it was clear that the care sector is underfunded. Evidence to the Royal Commission into Aged Care and the Disability Royal Commission have highlighted the poor working conditions of care workers.

The analysis applied computable general equilibrium (CGE) modelling to simulate the effect on the economy if additional funding was made available to the care sectors. The funding was injected in two ways. Child care workers and personal carers and assistants, both female dominated industries, would receive a wage increase phased in over four years. Over the same period of time additional funding would be allocated to increase the capacity of the system to increase the workforce participation by the 923,000 workers who have reported that they would work more hours if they were not providing care.

The results of the modelling clearly showed that funding the care economy would provide an economic stimulus. By 2030, GDP would be 1.64% higher than it would have been without the additional funding. Labour supply would increase by over 2%, and the cost of $19 billion (in 2030) would be substantially offset by increased revenue, leaving a net cost to the Government of $3 billion.

Importantly, and unlike the stimulus measures adopted in the 2020-21 Budget, much of this benefit would flow to women. The increased labour supply would be 70% female, but there would also be a stimulatory effect across the economy, including male dominated sectors – even mining would benefit by 2030.

We need a women’s budget paper

The 2020-21 Budget missed the opportunity to recognise the gendered effect of the pandemic by stimulating women’s jobs. Investing in the care economy works three ways: it increases labour market participation, improves employment conditions for carers, and, importantly, it addresses female economic disadvantage by reducing the wage gap.

But even more importantly, this analysis shows the importance of applying a gender lens to the budget process. Under questioning at Senate Estimates on 19 October, the Minister for Women maintained that policies are to assist all Australians, and that it is the responsibility of each department to analyse whether policy proposals have a gendered effect.

The 2020-21 Budget shows that until we return to a properly constructed women’s budget statement as part of the government policy making processes the lived experience of women will continue to be overlooked.


The 2020-21 Gender Lens on the Budget is edited by Helen Hodgson and Marie Coleman; with contributions from more than 30 authors. Helen is also the chair of the NFAW Social Policy Committee. This year’s report can be accessed here:


Other Budget Forum 2020 articles

Blink and You’ll Miss It: What the Budget Did for Working Mums, by Miranda Stewart.

Progressivity and the Personal Income Tax Plan, by Sonali Walpola and Yuan Ping.

Training Subsidies and Market Failures, by John Freebairn.

Getting Coherence into the Equity Debate – Part 3, by Andrew Podger.

Getting Coherence into the Equity Debate – Part 2, by Andrew Podger.

Getting Coherence into the Equity Debate – Part 1, by Andrew Podger.

What Has Volunteering Got to Do With the Budget? By Sue Regan.

Talk of Aspiration Is Not Borne Out in Federal Budget Papers, by John Hewson.

Asymmetric Taxation of Business Income and Losses, by John Freebairn.

Economic Security for Older Partnered Women and Widows: Fixing Gaps in Australia’s Superannuation System, by Monica Costa, Helen Hodgson, Siobhan Austen and Rhonda Sharp.

Heroic Assumptions in Budget Omit One Major Threat: A Global Debt Crunch, by John Hewson.

Dream Budget or Not? by Shumi Akhtar.

Will Instant Asset Write-Offs Boost Jobs? by Michael Coelli.

It’s Not the Size of the Budget Deficit That Counts; It’s How You Use It, by Steven Hamilton.

Looking for Bold Reform? Get Rid of Payroll Taxes, by Robert Breunig.

It’s Time to Meet Key Social Policy Challenges in COVID Recovery, by John Hewson.

Meet the Liveable Income Guarantee, a Budget-Ready Proposal That Would Prevent Unemployment Benefits Falling off a Cliff, by John Quiggin, Elise Klein and Troy Henderson.

COVID-19 Strengthens Australians’ Belief in the Fair Go, Government Should Support the Vulnerable, by Emma Dawson.

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