Too many Australian women are retiring into poverty. The fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia is older women. More than 40% of older single retired women live in poverty. A huge driver of this growing problem is the dramatic gap between men’s retirement savings and women’s retirement savings.
On average, Australian women retire today with $118,000 in superannuation savings – about half what the average Australian man retires with. This gap is driven by the gender income gap but has been exacerbated by other inequities like women earning no superannuation when taking leave to care for children.
The Government’s COVID-19 early withdrawal of superannuation policy saw around 940,000 women draw down their superannuation accounts. One in four women wiped out their account to try get through the pandemic, and while men were more likely to make a withdrawal, women took out a higher proportion of their savings because of their lower average account balances.
The Liberals have spent the past eight years attacking retirement incomes. The Liberals:
The Government’s record on women’s superannuation is dismal – when they haven’t been ignoring the problem, they’ve made decisions that actively harm women.
The Government backflipped on its proposal to allow for the early release of superannuation for domestic violence victims earlier this year following enormous outcry by advocates, who pointed out that the scheme would create an avenue for economic abuse and put victims’ superannuation into abusers’ hands. This Budget revealed that the policy would have saved the Government $83 million.
The Government failed to make women’s retirement incomes a focus of their 2019 Retirement Incomes Review – failing to include gender analysis as a part of the terms of reference. As a result, the Review took very little consideration of the massive gap between men’s and women’s experiences of the superannuation system. The Government has tried to justify backing away from its election promise to increase the superannuation guarantee from 9.5% to 12%. Breaking this promise would cut retirement incomes for almost all Australian women.
One of the few Government promises that would positively impact women’s retirement incomes is their 2018 promise to make superannuation balances more transparent in family separations. Under current policy, superannuation balances are easily hidden from former partners in legal contests due to the complexity of accessing information which is already held by the ATO. The Government could fix this problem with the stroke of a pen. But more than three years after announcing this policy, action is nowhere in sight.
In 2018, the Government also introduced its “catch up payments” policy to boost women’s superannuation balances – but analysis at the time suggested men are almost twice as likely to benefit from the policy as women.
The Budget includes measures designed to boost women’s superannuation but does little to tackle the cause of the problem – women are paid less and work fewer hours, often because they’re balancing care responsibilities. The Budget fails to deliver the action needed on child care, the gender pay gap and affordable housing to ensure women don’t retire into poverty.
The decision to adopt Labor’s 2019 election policy and abolish the $450 earnings threshold for superannuation payments is a worthy change. Australian women and Australian unions have been asking for this reform for years. As a result, low-income part-time workers – who are disproportionately women – will see more superannuation flowing into their accounts, and better outcomes in retirement.