Victorian women’s lives had become harder because Kennett Government policies had transferred the responsibility of caring from the public to the private domain, according to the latest report of the People Together Project.
The report, Women: Balancing Social Justice with Economic Efficiency, said women are forced to fill the gaps left by early discharge from hospital, the closure of childcare centres and the tightening of criteria for respite services.
“Ancillary services such as the Royal District Nurses and many community health care services now incur fees, which many women are unable to afford,” the report says.
The report is based on information from a two-day public inquiry to which 53 organisations made submissions, and three “women’s audits” involving interviews and focus groups in city, regional and rural communities.
It is to be launched today by Ms Felicity Hampel, QC, president of Liberty Victoria.
The report challenged the former Kennett Government’s claim that its economic and social reforms brought a better quality of life for Victorian women through its “social dividend”.
“In fact, many women now carry heavier burdens than ever because of widespread cuts to services,” the report said.
The report criticised lower standards of care in public hospitals, closures of family planning centres and long waits for help from mother-and-baby units.
It said a lack of public housing had left an increasing number of women living in sub-standard accommodation, and many mothers were struggling to pay higher fees for kindergartens and cope with “voluntary” levies and fundraising activities for schools.
It said restructuring of school councils had discouraged women from standing, while the amount of time and responsibility required of women on kindergarten committees of management was frequently equivalent to a part-time job.
The report said caps on legal aid funding in Family Court matters forced some women to remain in violent or unhappy relationships or to represent themselves in court when trying to protect their own or their children’s entitle-ments.
“In one instance, a client instructed his barrister to keep a woman in the witness box for as long as possible so that her legal aid would run dry,” the report said.
It said the contracting out of health, education and community services – traditional employers of large numbers of women – had reduced women’s jobs, job security, and pay and conditions.
Ms Hampel said the report’s findings were “a shameful indictment on a society which prides itself on fairness, equality of opportunity and access”.
The shadow minister for women’s affairs, Ms Leonie Burke, said yesterday that the former Liberal Government had recognised carers of the aged and disabled needed support and had pioneered a four-year, $100million program to help them.
She said the Government had also consulted women over their needs, culminating in the Women on the Move report.
The People Together Project describes itself as a non-party political organisation that assesses the impact of government policies on social justice.
* CASE STUDY 1
“The intern was doing an epidural whilst the supervising doctor was not present. Twice her (sciatic nerve) was touched. On the third attempt her respiratory system was knocked out and plasma was required to resuscitate herThe supervising doctor arrived and (asked) why they were using a glass syringe. The intern replied that they thought because of the need to save resources, they’d use the cheaper reusable type of syringe, despite it being more difficult to use.”
* CASE STUDY 2
“Jennifer, a mother of two secondary-school aged children, approached (a charity) distressed that she was unable to afford her children’s school fees (voluntary levies). She was embarrassed when she attempted to negotiate payment arrangements with school staff. Jennifer said, `I was abused by the secretary and told that schools were not banks.’ It was then suggested that she apply for credit elsewhere.”
* CASE STUDY 3
“One woman was on the waiting list for public housing for 8 years. Then her daughter turned 16 and she was removed from the list altogether because she was no longer classified as a supporting parent.”
First published in The Age.