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?