The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ cancellation of the Work, Life and Family Survey (WoLFS), originally scheduled to occur later this year, has been met with serious concern by researchers and industry bodies.
Last conducted in 2006, the survey collects data on how Australians spend their time, and provides one of the few comprehensive datasets available for understanding the scope, depth and impact of unpaid work on Australians at home.
What was due to be the 2013 study was cancelled in December 2012, with an ABS spokesperson confirming the Bureau needed to axe the research in order to find additional savings between $1.1 million and $1.4 million per annum, including this financial year. It’s now due to next be conducted in 2019.
Diversity Council of Australia research director Dr Jane O’Leary said removing the survey is a critical oversight. “It’s essential to monitoring Australia’s progress for promoting gender equality at home.”
She said the data collected is key to developing appropriate policies for understanding and lightening the load on working Australians, especially women. “It’s used widely by government agencies, academics and industry bodies. We’ve drawn on it to demonstrate the high volume of unpaid work taken on by key demographics, especially women,” said O’Leary.
O’Leary’s key concern is shared by Cecilia Herbert, a gender diversity and inclusion consultant, who started a Change.org petition to the ABS to bring the next survey forward – already signed by more than 500 people.
“The survey gives us such rich data on all the silent and unpaid workers that keeps families and our country working,” Herbert told Women’s Agenda. “There was already a huge amount of push against the cancellation among researchers. But we want to give the ABS data that shows it’s not just researchers and policymakers who are affected by this decision. There are everyday Australians who work so hard looking after people. Without the survey, they won’t just be unpaid and unrewarded; their contribution will be silenced and ignored.”
That the WoLFS was even considered an option for cost-cutting is a cause for serious concern, according to the DCA. “When you look at the social and economic changes since 2006, the most notable being the GFC, and quite significant legislative change around gender equality and equality data, the current data just doesn’t portray an accurate picture of the current state of play. It’s very, very dated,” said O’Leary.
The 2013 survey was scheduled to commence in February this year, and would have collected interview samples from 12,300 households.
The DCA finds the timing of the survey’s cancellation to be particularly unfortunate given the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which seeks to lessen the load on carers. “It makes no sense to introduce a new policy like the NDIS and then withdraw the key ways of monitoring its impact over time,” said O’Leary. “I hope the government pays heed to the strongly voiced concerns about academics and researchers industry, and introduces the survey back into the policy platform so we can properly monitor this.”
Herbert says it’s not just about policy – it’s about lives. “Gender equality is about every sphere in our lives. We need to measure what’s happening at home and unpaid caring work,” said Herbert. “We’re going to have no benchmarks to know if we’re moving towards inequality. We’ll know in the workplace and we can only infer about the home from that. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the consequences are very significant.”