Is it time Australia had a Men’s Budget?
This week, Australia published its third national Women’s Budget in 18 months, with the new Labor Government committing more than $10B to improving the lives and health of women and girls. There was no apparent commitment in the budget to target specific funding to improving the lives and health of men and boys.
The Australian Men’s Health Forum does not advocate for funding to be taken away from initiatives that support women and girls. What we challenge is the Government’s approach of targeting funding at women to the exclusion of men, in the face of clear evidence that the Australian public is supportive of funding being targeted at women’s issues and men’s issues.
This one-sided approach to gender issues is not a new direction brought about by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
In May 2021, Scott Morrison’s Coalition government unveiled a $3.4 billion Women’s Budget which included an allocation of $535.8m to focus on the 5 priority areas identified in the National Women’s Health Strategy. There was no parallel Men’s Budget and no funding allocated to focus on the 5 priority areas outlined in the National Men’s Health Strategy.
Similarly, in the run up to the 2022 Federal Election, the Morrison government announced a $2.1 billion Women’s Budget which allocated $333 million “to strengthen health services available to women and girls…as part of the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030”. In contrast, there was no mention of the National Men’s Health Strategy 2020–2030 and just $1 million allocated to “improve long term health outcomes for all Australian men and boys”.
The uneven funding of gender, health and wellbeing initiatives isn’t unique to the Federal Government. In June 2022, the NSW Government committed $16.5 billion over 10 years to make NSW “the best place in the country for women to live, work and raise a family”. Of course, this wasn’t accompanied by a complementary commitment to make NSW the best place in the country for men to live.
As a little experiment, I googled the phrases “the best place in the country for women” and returned 70,000 results. When I tried finding similar references for “the best place in the country for men”, I didn’t find a single mention of the phrase.
Google Search: The best place in the country for women
Google Search: The best place in the country for men
What is the point of a Women’s Budget?
Historically, Australia has been a world leader when it comes to gender budget analysis. The Federal Government published a Women’s Budget from 1983 to 2013 and our state and territory governments followed suit.
The aim of gender budgeting is to recognise that decisions on policy and spending can impact men and women in different ways and taking this into account can both prevent unforeseen negative impacts, as well provide opportunities to target funding in ways that directly address gender issues.
In recent years, rather that assessing the impact of Government spending on women, Women’s Budgets have tended to list the areas of Government spending that target women.
For advocates of gender budget analysis, Labor’s Women’s Budget is a welcome step towards reinstating a more systemic, comprehensive and responsive approach to gender budgeting.
Is there a case for a Men’s Budget?
The foundation of a comprehensive Women’s Budget is the undertaking of gender impact assessments across all government departments. In theory, such a process should seek to highlight both the disadvantages that women face, as areas where “men experience greater hardship than women”.
In response, government departments could identify ways that mainstream programs need to be reformed to be take account of the needs and preferences of men and boys and areas where programs need to be specifically targeted at men.
An obvious example is recognising that while 3 in 4 people who die by suicide are men, up to 4 in 5 people who benefit from government-funded suicide prevention services are women. Taking a gender responsive approach to this problem means both reforming existing services to be more inclusive of men and also funding programs that target men directly.
Yet as our friends at Suicide Prevention Australia highlighted this week, the recent budget was “a missed opportunity for funding to support….priority populations including men”.
And suicide isn’t the only issue that impacts men disproportionately.
There is a strong case to be made that there are a number of key areas where men and boys in experience hardship and unequal outcomes when compared to women and girls. There are also many cases where specific groups of men and boys experience greater hardship and inequality when compared with men and women in general.
These areas of male disadvantage include not just mental and physical health outcomes, but also a range of social outcomes including boys’ education, men’s experiences of parenting and family life, men’s greater risk of accident and injury, the impacts of work, unemployment and the breadwinner role on men, and men’s unequal access to help and support for a range of social issues.
In the absence of an Office for Men or a Minister for Men or a National Men’s Strategy, the process of developing a Men’s Budget would be a useful mechanism for requiring all government departments to start thinking about the impact that their policies are having on the lives and health of men and boys in Australia.
How About a Men’s Health Budget?
Labor’s Women’s Budget Statement (2022-2023) focuses on three key themes:
- women’s economic equality
- ending violence against women
- gender equality, health and wellbeing.
It states that “gender can be a significant determinant of different health experiences and outcomes” and that “understanding these differences is essential to improving outcomes and quality of life for all Australians.” Furthermore, it commits to taking action to “improve the health and wellbeing of women and girls” through the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030.
With this in mind, the logical first step for men’s health is for the Government to make a parallel commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of men and boys through the National Men’s Health Strategy 2022-2030.
Ideally, this would be backed up by a Men’s Health Budget Statement that clearly sets out the ways the Federal Government will make existing services more effective at supporting men and direct specific funding at male-friendly health programs.
Australia is fortunate to be one of the few countries in the world to have a National Men’s Health Strategy, but it’s impact will be limited if it isn’t backed up by action and funding.