Women and money – let’s level the playing field

Women and money – let’s level the playing field

In the lead up to the 2016 federal election, Good Shepherd Microfinance asked team members what financial inclusion issues they’d like to see addressed during the election campaign and by the incoming government. In the fifth article of the series, Renee Hancock, General Manager – Innovation and Marketing, looks at how our politicians can improve the financial resilience of women.

Money can be a scary thing when it comes to relationships, especially for women.

When my parent’s marriage ended, we went from a two income family to a one income family overnight. My mother was left with a car loan (but no car), a mortgage and all the expenses that come with having two children. We struggled to make ends meet and eventually the bank forced my mother to sell our family home. It took around 10 years for her to recover financially.

That was almost 30 years ago. Back then, there was no understanding of the term ‘financial abuse’ and there wasn’t a lot of support from banks, utility companies or debt collectors when it came to financial hardship.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is a problem without geographic, economic, or social boundaries.

It’s not confined to an age group, religion or ethnicity, so we need to raise awareness of financial abuse across the entire community.

The best estimates suggest two million women in Australia have experienced financial abuse, yet the community’s understanding of the issue is low and programs to address it are in their infancy. And money is one of the top reasons why women don’t leave abusive relationships. Yes … money.

Public awareness of financial abuse is so low that many women who have experienced it don’t identify themselves as victims and, even if they do, they don’t know where to turn for help. Thirty years ago my mother didn’t realise it … but she was a victim of financial abuse.

Today we’re starting to see some action but so much more needs to happen. Banks and utility companies are introducing measures to support women who have experienced financial abuse and Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence dedicates several days to testimony and many pages of its report to financial abuse. The Royal Commission recommended greater education, practically in industries where staff may be able to identify financial abuse and make appropriate referrals such as finance and utility ombudsman services and bank staff. It’s great to see the Victorian Government committed to implementing all the recommendations from the report.

Last year Good Shepherd Microfinance launched a new online training module Women and Money: an introduction to financial abuse, to educate our 1,500 microfinance workers across Australia on how to recognise the warning signs of financial abuse and make appropriate referrals to organisations that can assist these clients.

Similar training could be rolled out to financial institutions and utility providers, so they know the tell-tale signs of financial abuse and can direct these women to relevant support services.

Financial abuse is just one of the many examples of entrenched gendered income inequality in Australia. We know that girls receive less pocket money than boys, women graduates earn less than their male peers and women earn 19 per cent less than men. To say nothing of superannuation. But another issue is starting to emerge.

Payday lending

We’re also learning that the number of women turning to high-cost payday loans to pay for everyday living expenses is increasing, as is the amount they’re borrowing, suggesting an increasing number of women are being excluded from mainstream credit options.

While the industry has grown by 80 per cent over the last decade, the number of women using these loans has grown by 110 per cent. Over the same 10 year span, the average loan amount has dropped by $165, but the average loan for women rose by $165.[1]

This increase in women using payday loans is, in part, a symptom of gender inequality, as many women in low paid jobs, casualised workforces or carers of children and older parents look to supplement their income.

Let’s have an honest discussion

We’re calling for the incoming Government to make women’s financial resilience a high priority with a focus on financial abuse and payday lending. However, the reality is that these two problems are symptoms of larger issues, namely, structures and policies that limit a woman’s ability to achieve financial stability.

My hope is that the incoming Government can have a ‘real’ and honest discussion about the institutional barriers that curb a woman’s ability to achieve long-term financial stability. This includes the current structure of superannuation, the gender wage gap, casualisation of gendered industries such as jobs in the health, education and community sectors and access to childcare.

If we’d had this discussion 30 years ago, my mother’s financial situation after divorce may have been very different.

Renee Hancock
General Manager – Innovation and Marketing

Renee Hancock, General Manager - Innovation and Marketing

Renee Hancock looks after innovation and marketing at Good Shepherd Microfinance. She is responsible for the organisation’s new and emerging programs including areas such as insurance, housing and savings. She has a long career in corporate social responsibility, communications and marketing in both the not-for-profit and corporate sectors. 

[1] Women and Payday Lending, Digital Finance Analytics, 2016

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