Albanese government urged to increase rent assistance and childcare workers’ pay in budget

Labor downplays delivering on women’s taskforce wishlist all at once but promises to ‘build upon’ investments in future budgets

Increased rent assistance and a pay rise for all childcare and aged care workers are among the “specific and urgent” recommendations for the budget made by the women’s economic equality taskforce.

The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, has released the taskforce’s advice but played down the likelihood of delivering on the wishlist all at once, noting the “tight fiscal environment” and promising to “build upon” investments in future budgets.

The release comes after Tuesday’s revelation the economic inclusion committee had called for a “substantial increase” to “inadequate” jobseeker payments, which the government is unlikely to deliver in May.

The committee proposed lifting jobseeker to 90% of the value of the aged pension, which would cost $24bn over four years. However, it is unclear whether the government could yet back a less substantial increase.

As the taskforce chair, Sam Mostyn, told the National Press Club in March, expanding the eligibility of single parent payments and abolishing the ParentsNext program were the most pressing requests.

Raising the children’s cutoff age (currently eight years old) at which parents are moved from the single parent payment to the less generous jobseeker payment is considered the reform most likely to be implemented in the budget. The fate of ParentsNext is unclear because the program could be reformed by removing penalties for non-attendance without scrapping it entirely.

In a letter dated 24 March the taskforce called to abolish the childcare subsidy activity test, and pay superannuation for primary carers while they are on paid parental leave, which has been pushed by the Greens and stakeholders at the jobs and skills summit.

It called on the government to “increase the rate of commonwealth rental assistance to improve women’s immediate housing security stemming from the lack of affordable, appropriate, and safe housing options”; and “invest in an interim pay-rise for all early childhood educators and aged care workers in recognition of the historical undervaluation of their work and the urgent need to retain and attract workers to the sector”.

In February the Fair Work Commission ruled that a 15% pay rise for aged care workers needed to be introduced in one hit from July this year, rejecting the Albanese government’s call to split the increase over two years.

The taskforce submitted that it was “acutely aware of the fiscal and economic pressures the government is managing” in the May budget, but said its proposals were “urgent and targeted”.

The taskforce also called to raise “the base rate of income support and review of the current system of indexation of payments and analysis as to their adequacy”.

“Women are tired of waiting for the right time to be prioritised,” it said.

“Australian women want to believe the government’s commitment to gender equality is real, but until they see evidence of material change that centres their needs and stops the compounding disadvantage that accrues to them, they will retain a healthy scepticism.”

The taskforce said that “investment in women’s economic equality is one of the smartest investments that can be made”, citing Deloitte research that found a $128bn benefit to the Australian economy from increasing women’s economic equality and participation.

Gallagher welcomed the taskforce’s advice, thanking them for “their effort in reaching out to women around Australia, as well as drawing on their own significant and credible expertise and experience”.

“We are considering the taskforce’s recommendations in the context of the 2023-24 budget, including what we can responsibly deliver in a tight fiscal environment,” she said.

“The investments we make to drive gender equality in this budget will be built upon in subsequent budgets, in the same way that we are already building on the over $7bn investment made in the October budget to make childcare cheaper, boost paid parental leave and support women’s safety.”

On Monday the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, told reporters in Canberra that “I think that people understand that we can’t do everything at once”.

“We can’t do everything that we would like to do.”


Paul Karp Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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