Social security and gender inequality

At SSRV we see the many ways in which social security law in Australia disproportionately and unfairly affects women. We want to shine a light on this inequality and call on everyone to see the bias and embrace change. So, in what ways does social security law disadvantage women over men? Here’s just two examples. 

Systemic bias to traditional finances  

There is a systemic bias towards traditional family structures in the social security system. A common example SSRV sees is the member of a couple provisions, which result in one partner’s income affecting the other parent’s social security eligibility and payment rate.  

SSRV often sees this situation come up when women are taking on a primary parenting role and are unable to access parenting payment due to their partner’s income.

The partnered income test is based on the assumption that finances are fairly shared, which we know isn’t always the case and is out of step with how modern couples organise their finances.

SSRV is often contacted by women who are seeking access to social security for their financial autonomy, but are unable to due to an inability to avoid the member of a couple provisions.  

Limiting women’s access to social security due to an assumption of shared finances can disempower women and decrease their autonomy, and in many cases fails to recognise the important role of raising children and its impacts on income earning.

Systemic bias to families’ traditional model of care 

Another way the social security system exacerbates inequality is through a bias towards a traditional model of parenting with one parent being the primary carer.  

Take for example Parenting Payment, which can only be paid to one parent (either at a single or a coupled rate). The payment can only be paid to the primary carer of the child, and in cases where both parents are in need and have 50/50 care, Centrelink must make an assessment of the party in greater need. 

This means many women with genuine equal responsibility for a child miss out on receiving payments, and many have told us that, as a result, they have been unable to afford medicine or foods for their children.  

Embrace Equality 

It’s the insidious nature of gender inequality that its causes are not always clear or obvious to all, and SSRV believes that it is beholden on all of us to call out inequity when we see it. 

We will continue to raise awareness of the gender biases that exist within Australia’s social security system, and advocate for a more equal and fair future for all. 

SSRV legal advice 

SSRV can provide advice to people who have experienced social security issues as a result of economic or other violence. Clients can call our Legal Assistance Line on 03 9481 0355 and workers can call 9481 0655.

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