Calculating COVID's impact on women's financial health

Calculating COVID's impact on women's financial health

From the impact of early access to super to the increased risk of economic abuse during lockdown, COVID-19 is eroding women’s economic and financial equality, experts warn.

Gender super gap

The policy implications of early access to super during the pandemic could significantly widen the super gender gap, according to the Associate Dean of Finance in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, Associate Professor Banita Bissoondoyal-Bheenick.

Among the Federal Government's various stimulus packages, it announced a temporary measure allowing individuals facing severe financial stress due to the pandemic to access their superannuation before retirement of up to $10,000 in the 2019-20 tax year, and another $10,000 in 2020-21 (from 1 July to 24 September 2020).

“The policy is likely to have implications for the retirement balance of those who choose to access their super early, but more so for women,” Bissoondoyal-Bheenick says.

Women currently retire with 47% less superannuation than men in Australia, with the early withdrawal likely to further exacerbate this gender gap.

“Analysis of data released by the ATO and AMP indicates that the policy has not undertaken distributional analysis by gender.

While it will be a while before the full effects of COVID-19 on women’s finances are known, the sectors most severely affected are dominated by women in the workforce.

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that 325,000 women became unemployed in April, which is 55 % of all jobs lost in Australia, while female work hours reduced by 11.5 %, compared to a 7.5 % reduction in male hours," she says.

At the same time, 70% of those employed in the health and social work sector are women and fall into the lower income earning groups of society.

“The higher rate of job losses by women, coupled with early withdrawal of super, could leave many women’s long-term super balance at a bare minimum or simply being eroded completely,” she says.  

Economic abuse     

Supriya Singh is an Honorary Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Law and warns an impending "tsunami of economic abuse reports threatens to flood services once women can safely seek help.”

As an expert in economic and financial abuse and its impact on migrant women in Australia, Singh fears it will become overwhelming during restrictions, including among migrant communities.

“COVID-19 restrictions have further entrapped women and children suffering family violence, locking them in with their abuser,” she says.

“We know that economic fragility increases abuse while decreasing women’s options of surviving alone.

“Migrant women experiencing family violence will be even more vulnerable as their families overseas are unable to give them face-to face support.

Isolation, fear and entrapment are key elements of coercive control, which is at the centre of family violence.

Coercive control plays out as an insidious pattern of behaviours used by perpetrators to control and entrap their victims, including psychological and financial abuse.

While “coercive control was criminalised in England and Wales in 2015 and in Ireland and Scotland in 2019,” it’s not a crime in Australia, Singh explains.

“COVID-19 has led to increased calls from women experiencing family violence, however, more worrying is the silence of women who are trapped and cannot reach out for help,” she says. 


Story: Diana Robertson


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