The implications of financial counselling cuts for women and children
Women’s services across the State work with disadvantaged women and their families whom benefit from face-to-face financial counselling services. Many disadvantaged women in Western Australia are without the necessary financial skills to access financial information on which to base financial decision-making and require assistance in developing a range of strategies to budget and manage their finances. Women, and in particular marginalised women, require financial counselling to ensure their own and often their families' economic security.
A number of issues influence women's financial security, including that women in general spend less time in the paid workforce than men, are less likely to be paid overtime than men and are more likely to have interrupted career patterns due to caring responsibilities. Women's employment is also concentrated in lower-paying sectors and occupations. This has implications for women's financial management and security. Many disadvantaged women are vulnerable to slight shifts in their financial circumstances and the benefits of increased access to paid employment realised by some women have not been able to be achieved by many disadvantaged women. Poverty has multiple impacts on women's capacity to access long-term financial planning information.
Furthermore, women’s financial security following domestic violence is increasingly being recognised as a critical concern. Research undertaken over the past decade demonstrates the close nexus between women’s financial security and their ability to leave violence, gain safety and recover from the effects of abuse. To a large extent improving women’s financial security requires structural change. However, economic advocacy around women’s debts, savings, assets and income needs to be seen as part of the ‘core business’ of working to prevent and reduce domestic violence. Financial counselling is a well established model of economic advocacy and plays an important role in countering the effects of domestic violence.
Research suggests that increasing the focus on financial capability within the knowledge and practice frameworks of the family and domestic violence sector is an important goal (there are sizable knowledge gaps in the sector in relation to addressing the financial capability needs of women exiting domestic violence situations). In the absence of financial counsellors it is unclear how the economic advocacy needs of disadvantaged women will be met. Any discussions about alternative options should include:
- Options for developing pilot programs with interested groups and/or the development of a series of modules which can be adapted to the differing economic advocacy needs of particular groups of disadvantaged women.
- Financial education programs designed in consultation with the target audience; and developed in a range of formats to suit the needs of different groups of disadvantaged women.
- Progressing options for the development of reliable targeted programs for disadvantaged women in close consultation with peak women's and social welfare groups who work with disadvantaged women.
- Strengthening the capacity of women’s and family and domestic violence services to further undertake various forms of economic advocacy; and to increase the efficacy of their endeavours to provide individual economic advocacy.
At an individual level, economic advocacy involves assisting clients to identify and address their financial needs, often through negotiations with financial institutions, companies, government agencies and employers. In order to maximise the effectiveness of economic advocacy, it is important to consider what elements contribute to good practice. Financial counselling is a useful starting point for considering this question, as it is a well-established model of economic advocacy. At the same time, attention also needs to be paid to the ways in which the needs of women (particularly women affected by domestic violence differ from those of other groups experiencing financial hardship.
The State’s Family and Domestic Violence Prevention Strategy to 2022 has a focus on the outcomes of prevention and early intervention, victim safety, and perpetrator accountability. The decision by the Department for Child Protection and Family Support to cease funding all financial counselling services in the metropolitan region is entirely inconsistent with it’s commitment to delivering these outcomes. Also, opportunities for incorporating economic advocacy into the ‘core business’ of domestic violence services and for pursuing greater collaboration with the financial counselling sector will be lost.