Working part-time with a HELP debt? Look out!

Women working part-time with a HELP debt, look out

Did you know I’m a doubtful debt risk? That’s what the Grattan Institute have labeled me, and other women who leave the full-time workforce before repaying their HELP debt. If you are a women working part-time with a HELP debt, look out! In an attempt to reign in rising student debts under the current HELP system (that’s the Higher Education Loan Program), the Grattan Institute has recommended slashing the income threshold for repaying HELP debt from $54,126 to $42,000. The winner? The Government, the proposal could raise $500 million in a year. The losers? You guessed it, women. The Grattan Institute doesn’t try to hide the fact that the rationale behind the changes are to target women.

If you are working part-time with a HELP debt, look out!

According to the Grattan Institute, those who are working work part-time long-term, often as a second income earner are the trouble makers, or rather those who aren’t repaying HELP. Rather unsurprisingly, 75% of part time workers are female. If you are a woman working part-time with a HELP debt, The Grattan Institute has you in it’s sights! It’s not rocket science then that these recommendations would affect more women than men.

For many women, myself included, part time work encourages workforce participation. But do these recommendations serve as a disincentive to work part time? If you are a woman, earning a low part time wage, which is further reduced by HELP repayments, you do start to question whether working is really viable. Let’s remember that, while child care costs ought to be considered a cost for the family, it’s often paid from the mother’s wage. When you end up with about 100 bucks in your hip pocket, you really wonder why you bother with the stress that working places on the whole family.

The Grattan Institute seems to imply that women who work part time are shirking their responsibilities to repay their HELP debts. That’s not why women chose to work part time. On the other days of the week they are doing this thing known as raising children. A contribution to society that remains overlooked and undervalued.

Women earn less

Women in Australia earn less than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap is a whopping 18.8% and that gap is growing rather than shrinking. To add to that, obviously, if you work less, by virtue of part time work, you get paid less. Basically, these reforms would mean a person earning $42,000 would pay 3% of their income off their HELP loan. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s about $1260 a year. That’s a fair chunk out of a low income earners pay, which is often those starting out in their careers and those who work part time.

According to the report, women were much more likely than men to persistently earn too little to repay HELP debt. This really grinds my gears. What kind of wacky policy suggests we further reduce the amount women take home? Let’s focus on the real inequity here. Women are earning too little to repay their HELP debts. I have this crazy idea, why don’t we increase women’s wages so they are in line with their male colleagues? I don’t know, maybe equal pay for equal work ought to be a thing?

The women it targets can afford to work the system

According to the Grattan Institute, half of the debtors who would be affected live with a partner, and the combined disposable income of 70 per cent of those couples exceeds $80,000 a year. I was working two days a week, I recently started working a five day fortnight. That extra day of fortnight means that HELP repayments are now taken from my pay. Now I’m questioning the point of working the extra day. Sure, my HELP debt is decreasing. But simply reducing my HELP debt, by working an extra day in a job that I don’t love, well I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll go back to working two days a week, cementing my status as a ‘doubtful debt risk’.

My point is though, these proposals ignores the fact that the women it targets can probably afford to work less, earn less and therefore repay less. 

The losers of these sexist recommendations are the women that do not enjoy this flexibility. Women earning low incomes, who are the sole income earners for the household and their dependents. These women have no discretion to change their income and will experience the full impact of such brutal public policy.

Most students need HELP

I have no issue with repaying my HELP debt. Without the HELP system, I simply couldn’t have gone to Uni. My issue is these recommendations unfairly target women. Let’s do more to address broader systemic issues, like the participation rates of women in the workforce, the gender pay gap and access to higher education.

What do you think of the Grattan Institute’s recommendations? Are we a doubtful debt risks together?

20 thoughts on “Working part-time with a HELP debt? Look out!

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this post. “On the other days of the week they are doing this thing known as raising children. A contribution to society that remains overlooked and undervalued.”

    This is why I believe that if we are going to make any progress at all for equality for women we HAVE to include child-rearing in GDP and MAKE the economy appreciate its value. Otherwise it will be constantly overlooked at women will be constantly accused of not pulling their weight. It makes me so incredibly furious.

    1. Thanks Rebecca! The intimation that women work part time to someone avoid repaying a HELP debt, rather than caring and raising the next generation is absurd.

  2. I love this post! I worked full-time in ridiculously high paying roles for 12 yrs before I decided that the time was right for me to finally attend uni. Throughout uni I worked 3 part time jobs at least 2 at any one time, I also married and had a surprise baby. I kept working, uni and then raising our son (yes my hubby was/is around but somehow I shouldered more of that burden!) Then as soon as I could I started working full-time. There was a period in my final prac that I was working 5 days at school teaching (being paid) and one day on the weekend not able to give up my weekend job because I didn’t have a perm teaching role.

    Even in that final period I didn’t earn enough to pay HECS as it was then. I also had to take out a supplement loan which meant that I cashed in a portion of the threshold that I could earn and could earn double I think (It was a long long time ago 1999 when I took it out) before I was cut off Austudy. It wasn’t something I wanted to do but it was the only way I could pay my car loan and other bills in addition to working part time plus doing uni. I have always paid the tax that I have been required to I have never avoided paying anything that I am supposed to.

    In 2004 I got my first teaching gig it was part time (remember 1 son who was turning 3) so again didn’t pay HECS or SUPPS (I think they have been both rolled into HELP) but if I had earnt over the threshold would have willingly. I then had our twins and had to go on medical mat leave thank goodness for me 05 was also the year the Baby Bonus was introduced so we survived. I went back to work Semester 2 06 7 days a fortnight and again all the daycare arrangements fell to me and if any of the kids were sick it was totally expected that I would be the one to take the time off. My husband isn’t awful it is just the way it is! I actually had liver cancer growing while I was teaching in semester 2! I then scored a full-time position at another school beginning Term 1 07. Which was 5 weeks after a liver resection (whole other story!) Even working full-time as a teacher I STILL wasn’t earning enough to pay my HECS debt down!!!! I had to drop to part time that year because we were paying the nanny more than I was ending up with in my hand to raise the girls. So dropping to 3 days per fortnight with my husband then working a roster that meant he could have the girls two of the 3 days and my mum or dad had them the other we had more money in the hand that we did when I worked full-time and paid for daycare! At the end of that year for so many reasons I stopped teaching and haven’t been back and am highly unlikely to ever! Which devastates me in a sense because I have two full degrees one with a triple major that I studied for over 4 years and I am not using them. But having a replica pistol pointed at me makes me just not want to do it!

    Just before all three of our kids went to primary school I went back to work part-time in a well paying job BUT STILL not enough to earn over the threshold to pay HECS. That was up until I had a complete breakdown and ended up in hospital and I haven’t worked in a paid sense since. But I do all the washing every day, I have today cleaned the house from top to bottom, done ironing, will be here when our 10yr olds get home from school instead of relying on their 14yo brother to look after them. I have dinner cooking, cleaned the kitchen and made the kids afternoon tea. So NO I guess I don’t really work, I just sit around and do bugger all.

    I honestly doubt I will ever pay my HELP Debt back so certainly in this instance I am absolutely a doubtful debt risk. But truly the contribution that I make in other ways is simply not counted at all.

    We would LOVE to be “According to the Grattan Institute, half of the debtors who would be affected live with a partner, and the combined disposable income of 70 per cent of those couples exceeds $80,000 a year.” the truth of the matter is that fortnightly after all our bills are paid and we pay for the kids activities put money aside for groceries, petrol, insurance, rego and a tiny bit of saving ($50p/f) we have about $100 left over as “disposable income!” As we get paid fortnightly that adds to a whopping $2600 per yr!!! I am not for one second saying poor us but I would love to know where the Grattan Institute are getting their figures from!

    Like you without HECS and SUPPS I couldn’t have gotten my degrees because there was no way for me or my parents to pay for my degree. We will not be able to pay for our children’s degrees either should they go to university. If I was earning enough I would be happy to pay my debt back honestly it isn’t that much more as added tax but since graduating in 2003 (and through out my degree because if you work any earn over the threshold you have to pay it too!) not even when working full time have I earnt enough to be in the tax bracket to pay back any of my debt!!!

    Apologies for the essay it just makes me so cross the people who can least afford it are the ones who are shouldering it! And frankly if you can find me a family where there is both parents working AND they have a disposable income of over $80k AND someone isn’t paying back their HECS debt well maybe they should be! But to me that sounds about as mythical as a flying unicorn farting rainbows with pots of gold at the end!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Kit! There’s certainly a need for a HELP scheme but making those than can least afford it repay their HELP debt sooner seems absurd to me!

  3. I agree. I immediately said to my husband, “Bet the people writing that report when to uni when it was free or are men that didn’t leave the workforce to raise children and paid it off before they were 30”. I don’t have an issue with making sure people pay off these debts, but targeting families when they are spending most of their disposable money on preparing the next generation of taxpayers doesn’t make much sense to me.

    1. You are on the money about the report being written by men, who likely enjoyed a free eduction! I’d love to pay my HELP debt off, but I didn’t deliberately leave the work force before repaying my debt (graduates start on not much money), I left to have kids! I’ve returned part time, again not to avoid repaying my HELP debt but to raise my family! I worry that if the threshold is lowered it’ll be yet another barrier to women returning to the work force!

  4. Having to repay your HELP debt when you earn $42K + is insane. It is just not feasible. The average FT graduate income is around $55K, so that should be the threshold for when you have to start repaying the debt. FFS this pisses me off! Especially when the people who write these reports and make these recommendations (and the vast majority of our bloody politicians) were all beneficiaries of FREE UNIVERSITY EDUCATION. Grrr.

    1. Oh yes, there seems to be some weird tendency of politicians and members of think tanks to forget that their Uni education was free! Selective memory!

  5. Argh! These things make me so mad and frustrated! Politicians and the like keep banging on about how we need equity in the workplace, and parents are valued contributors, but then they go and do shit like this which just makes everything harder.

  6. Brilliantly written, Claire! I bet the people who wrote this report are either a) men b) enjoyed a free university education or c) didn’t have to work at home raising a family while juggling a part time job earning an income. I’m guessing the report writers probably fall into all 3 categories! This is Crazy Town – as you so rightly point out, there’s no issue about paying the money back, but there is an issue about a sensible threshold and penalising women!

    1. Yep Sammie, I am going with (d) all of the above. I’d love to be HELP free, but lower the threshold, even for me on a decent wage (thanks to my Uni education), and working just becomes almost not financially viable!

  7. Just another example of systematic aggression against women, particularly mothers. We don’t have equality in the work place. We have “we’ll let you into the club, as long as you can adopt the same working hours and attitudes as an able-bodied, caucasian male with no carer responsibilities” No wonder so many women are trying to go it alone in their own businesses.

  8. This is yet another way women are oppressed and disadvantaged by a patriarchal system. Our roles as mothers are constantly devalued and we are penalised over and over for making the choice to have children in ways that men are not. I have so many thoughts on this- excellent post!

    1. Couldn’t agree more! It seems men are in fact rewarded in their careers for having a family whereas women are clearly penalised.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!