Exploring a system of “carer credits” to ensure that carers are not penalised in retirement, and subjecting all major public policy to a gender impact study were some of the recommendations to emerge from the COTA National Policy Forum on Thursday.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told the forum, which explored gender and ageing, that one of the core gender inequalities that exists is the gap in retirement incomes and savings between men and women, with a key contributing factor being the time many women spend in unpaid caring work.
To make the retirement system fairer, Ms Broderick recommended introducing a scheme of carer credits – direct credits paid by the government to the superannuation accounts of unpaid carers, which was a model that had been adopted internationally.
On average, women retire with just 57 per cent of the superannuation payouts of men.
Ms Broderick said she argued strongly for taking an explicit gender perspective into the development of public policy. “Whatever the area of public policy – whether it be aged care, housing, workforce participation, health and social welfare – a gender analysis is needed to get the policy right,” Ms Broderick said in a video presentation.
“It is only by making gender a central consideration in the development and implementation of public policy that we can hope to advance gender equality and women’s human rights.
“The risk in failing to do so is that public policy responses will not only perpetuate existing forms of discrimination against women, and men and women’s autonomy, but will also create new forms of gender oppression,” she said.
Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, said it was time to address the gender pay gap, which also impacts on retirement savings, and to challenge “the continuing story of the underpaying of feminised work.”
“Caring and community services are the growth areas of the future, but they are certainly not the areas where we are seeing real wages growth…that is something as a community we need to grapple with,” Dr Goldie told the forum.
To boost women’s retirement savings, Cate Wood, national chair of Women in Super, called for the removal of the $450 monthly earnings threshold to qualify for super contributions. She told the forum women made up the majority of part-time and casual workers, and estimates indicated some 250, 000 people were excluded because of the threshold.
Ms Wood said women were likely to be disproportionately affected by the scrapping of the super tax rebate for low-income earners and that self-employed women were known to make fewer contributions to their super than men, which was also part of the gender story around retirement savings.
Seniors in rentals at risk, says expert
Dr Maree Petersen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ageing Policy at the University of Queensland, said older people in insecure, private rental were at risk of homelessness, and single, older women were the growing face of that trend.
She told the forum it was also important for affordable and appropriate housing to be considered an aged care issue in order to support older people to age in place.
“When we are looking at housing affordability and older people, we need to be engaging with policy sphere of community aged care,” Dr Petersen said.
Turning the forum’s attention to men, Dr Anthony Brown from the Men’s Health and Information Resource Centre at the University of Western Sydney, said there was a need to focus attention on older male suicide, which has the highest rate of any age group, and the experiences of men after retirement.
Dr Brown said that studies on older men were a blind spot in academia and in funding priorities for research grants.
Australian Ageing Agenda was the forum media partner
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