Women continue to have lower levels of economic and workforce participation and security compared to men. They are more likely to be employed in part-time or casual work, and earn less than men over their lifetimes with significantly less superannuation at retirement. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the impact of these pre-existing inequalities, with women taking on majority of unpaid work during this period and demand for frontline services increasing.
The social services sector continued to provide essential frontline support throughout the pandemic and is anchored by a female workforce. In NSW it is a major employer of women with three out of four employees in the sector being female. However, the work of the sector is under-valued and under-resourced, preventing women from maximising their economic security and participation within it.
What’s in the 2022-23 Budget?
- $4.2m ($12.4m recurrent expenses over 4 years) to deliver the NSW Women Strategy 2022-26
- Up to $5 billion over 10 years to establish the Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund to:
- Provide grants to childcare providers to expand infrastructure and establish new centres
- Target areas with limited access to childcare centres or where a shortage of childcare places poses the highest disincentive to parents returning to work,
- Complement the Commonwealth’s demand-side childcare policy framework through flexible supply side funding
- Invest $775 million over the next four years, and
- Trial new service models to meet the needs of modern families.
- $18 million ($37.9 million recurrent over 3 years) to improve access to Before and After School Care (BASC) programs, including targeted transport services and innovative solutions to support delivery in areas currently lacking a service. The commitment includes $16.2 million over 2 years to increase access to BASC services for students in regional and rural schools.
- $8 million for extended hours childcare at Westmead, Bankstown-Lidcombe, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven hospitals for frontline health workers.
- $16m ($32m recurrent expenses over 2 years) to extend the Return to Work program to assist women getting back into the NSW workforce
- $20.2 million to grow female workers in construction from 5% to 15% by 2030
- $15 million over the next four years for women in small business to access free Tafe courses and professional advice:
- $3.5 million to provide fee-free TAFE NSW Women in Business courses
- $2 million in grants to industry associations and chambers of commerce to run professional networking programs for women in small business
- $5 million to expand the Business Connect program to provide dedicated services to women led small business
- $4.5 million for the Service NSW for support for women Business program to provide targeted led small businesses.
- $10 million for a venture capital Carla Zampatti Fund to invest in early stage women-led startups
What does it mean for those doing it tough?
This Budget’s significant investment in childcare and continued commitment to the Return to Work program will support and improve workforce and economic participation for working mothers, particularly in regional areas that will receive targeted funding to increase access to childcare services where needed.
Women in small business will also benefit from modest amounts in funding to support free learning and professional opportunities.
What is needed?
The cornerstone of the NSW Government’s focus on improving women’s opportunities in this Budget, and the response to the recent Women’s Economic Opportunities Review, is the significant investment in childcare and early childhood education initiatives. This is certainly positive and goes some way to addressing a key structural barrier in women’s economic and workforce participation.
However, the Budget focuses on measures for a cohort of the population with children and misses the opportunity to invest significantly in female-dominated industries. $20.2 million has been committed to grow the proportion of women in construction, but there has been no commitment or investment in the chronically underfunded social services sector, where 75% of the existing workforce are women and continue to cope with low wages, poor job security and lack of career pathways. Boosting core funding for the sector by at least 20% would immediately provide more support for a significant proportion of the female workforce in NSW.
Budget responses from the sector:
- NCOSS 2022-23 Pre-Budget Submission Summary
- NCOSS Submission: Women’s Economic Opportunities Review
- Long Way to the Top