In all the talk of age pensions, political deals and savings measures, we often forget the group in our society most negatively affected by cuts to safety nets: our women.
It is no news that women struggle to gather enough savings for their retirement. Between the unbalanced caring responsibilities in or outside nuclear families, the higher likelihood of participating in low-paid or insecure work and breaks in work participation, working women are left high and dry having to turn to the age pension much sooner than expected (and even that will now be made even harder after a new deal struck by the Coalition and the Greens will see cuts to the age pension safety net for thousands of Australians).
As a union whose membership is made up of over 70 percent women, the ASU has continued to call for provisions to protect women in the workplace, increase female participation in the workforce and ensure they are provided for in retirement.
Instead of finding solutions to fill the super gap, it seems our Government enjoys making it harder for women to find the quality of life we all search for in retirement. By cutting the low-income super contribution scheme which ensured 3.6 million Australians earning less than $37,000 received a tax concession of up to $500 a year on their super contributions, and by freezing the (already) planned increases to the superannuation guarantee, this Government has actively put hurdles in the way to a financially secure retirement for low and middle income working women.
Independent advisors no guarantee of protecting member interests
In proposed legislation the Government wants to push for a third of industry superannuation boards to be made up of "independent advisors". By attacking the structure of industry funds, the Government is directly targeting trade unions, such as the ASU, making it harder for them to defend members' interests in investment decisions. By extension, instead of fighting for the rights of working women, this Government is adversely affecting them by even proposing these changes.
Women are disproportionately represented in low-wage work; over 57 percent of low paid workers are women – women are therefore significantly handicapped by these changes.
Superannuation, at its very core, provides hard working Australians with an opportunity for financial security upon retirement. This is not a benefit for men or women. It's a benefit for all Australians, and as Australians who participate actively in our economy, women should not be disadvantaged by the system.
The harsh reality is 29 percent of women over the age of 65 live below the poverty line. In a survey recently released by Essential Research, only 39 percent of women (compared with 54 percent of men) said they will fund the majority of their retirement through their own savings. Eleven percent of women (to only three percent of men) said they would fund it with their partner's super, savings or investments. In addition, 55 percent of women do not believe they will have adequate income from their super and investments to live a comfortable lifestyle upon retirement, while only six percent were certain they would.
Women live longer but have less super
Superannuation should not be attached to your marital status, but rather the work you have contributed to your family, your community and our economy. This is the true measure of entitlement.
We already know the gender pay gap exists – currently an unacceptable 19 percent. So when do we stop talking and start acting to close not only the gender pay gap, but also the appalling 47 percent super gap between men and women?
Women are still expected to live about five years longer than men. Women are also expected to retire earlier than men. The years and the dollars add up, and they have added up to an average of $90,000 less superannuation savings for women than men.
It's time for real action to address this rising inequality in our superannuation system.