The Turnbull government’s latest Budget has been criticised for stigmatising single mothers and making life harder for those already doing it tough.
“Measures in this year’s Budget reflect the Government’s commitment to target support to people who need it most, including single parents,” said a Department of Social Services spokesperson.
However, the following Budget measures are likely to have a negative impact on single mothers:
- Stricter third party verification for single status from September 2018
- Family Tax Benefit freeze for 2 years
- Transfer from Parenting Payments Single to lower payment Newstart when the youngest child turns 8
- Increase in Medicare levy (income greater $21,644)
- Lower income threshold for student loan repayments (income greater $42,000)
The Budget announcement has received a strong reaction from women’s and single parent advocacy groups.
“Changes to government benefits and increases in taxes have a disproportionate effect on women,” stated the National Foundation for Australian Women in their analysis report Gender lens on the Budget 17-18. “Single parents particularly have suffered harsh changes.”
Some interesting (and alarming) facts to consider:
- 51.5% of Parenting Payment recipients are already living below the poverty line (2016 ACOSS Poverty in Australia report)
- 33.2% of all lone parent households in Australia living in poverty (2016 ACOSS Poverty in Australia report)
- Women are over represented at lower income levels. ATO reports the median income for women was $47,125 in 2014-15, while for men the amount was $61,711
- 95% of Parenting Payment (Single) recipients are women
- 22% of women in abusive relationships had returned to the relationship for some financial reprieve
As one of those women receiving Parenting Payment (Single), I wonder at the picture government policy paints of single mothers, as if it is a lifestyle choice.
Don’t get me wrong, I am exceptionally grateful for the income support I receive, which supplements what I earn as a freelance writer while I study and am the sole carer for my 3 children (3, 8,10).
The reality of my situation is there is little room for anything above essentials. I am paying off a mortgage so receive no rent assistance and receive approximately $1 a day in child support. When I do return to full time employment, hopefully with a degree under my belt, I will likely be in a low income bracket and will be then hit by child care costs, the medicare levy and HECS bills. At the end of the day, I am doing my best to support my children and contribute to society. I have no doubt most women in my position are.
However, the government paints a different picture with the Budget’s strong emphasis on cracking down on “welfare cheats”. A new stricter third party verification process for claimants of Parenting Payment Single is one part of their solution. Single parents will be required to get a third party to sign a statutory declaration to vouch for the relationship status. Harsh penalties have been threatened for misinformation.
The National Foundation for Australian Women describe is as “especially demeaning” while the National Council for Single Mother’s and their Children say it’s underpinned by distrust. I’m inclined to agree.
My initial reaction was “if you have nothing to hide..”, however when I discovered the Department of Social Services estimate a measly 4% of Parenting Payment recipients are incorrectly receiving payments, it seems like a lot of fuss about not much. It just adds another hoop for single mums to jump through.
It also raises questions. What if someone with a grudge dobs me in? I am in a fairly new relationship, we do not live together and he definitely does not have financial or parental responsibility for my children. However, his car is often in my driveway. What do I need to do to prove the validity of my sole parent status?
Are we back in the 70’s where I should fear a raid on my house looking for a man’s shoes under my bed and his clothes in my wardrobe? With Centrelink’s notorious history of cut payments first, ask questions later, you have to wonder.
Advocacy groups such as the National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children (NCSMC) are also disappointed with government’s emphasis on compliance for single parents while the child support system is in such a mess.
“In 2013-14 there were 435,425 Child Support customers with outstanding tax returns,” reported Terese Edwards, CEO of NCSMC. “The 2014 Child Support Inquiry showed that 36% of child support transferred was 0 to $500 per year – The Department was responsible for collection in 138,359 of these cases and that even with this pitiful annual amount 60,839 had a debt.”
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the Budget failed to address this issue. This is despite the undeniable fact that an improved, fairer child support system would relieve some burden from single mothers currently reliant on government support.
Terese Edwards summed it up beautifully when she said, “Parenting can be messy, exciting, exhausting, and one of the greatest joys – but most parents will agree that its also dam hard work.”
“Policy is flawed when the collective ‘we’ comes down hard on the parent who is stepping up whilst we put our head in the sand when policy is failing those it was designed to assist.”