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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why Are Sole Parents Under Threat?



above: Sole Parenting IS work in itself!

On  Jan 1 2013, the Australian Labor Government moved 84,000 sole parents, whose youngest child had turned 8, from Parenting Payment Single (PPS) (Grandfathered), a single parent pension, to NewStart, an unemployment benefit. The government justified this decision by suggesting they were merely encouraging workforce participation and bringing equality to 2 different groups of single parents, (pre and post 2006 recipients).

Maarit Hahkomaa argues for the recision of that decision in light of the existing pressures on sole parents - and the needs of their children.  The May Budget is the perfect opportunity to sets things right again...


 
by Maarit Hahkomaa
 
The Governments suggestion that this amendment to legislation was a measure to encourage increased workforce participation by sole parents is not supported by statistical evidence regarding workforce participation by sole parents.

“In June 2011, there were 950 thousand lone parent families, making up 15% of all families. About two-thirds of these lone parents were living with their dependants.
 
There were 780 thousand single mother families in June 2011, making up the vast majority of lone parent families (83%).

The parent was employed in 59% of lone parent families with dependants in June 2011. In these families, 70% of single fathers were employed compared with 57% of single mothers. Employment among single parents generally increased as the age of the youngest dependant increased, with 73% of single parent families whose youngest dependant was 15–24 years old having an employed parent, compared with 35% whose youngest dependant under 5.” 
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/6224.0.55.001~Jun%202011~Chapter~Lone%20Parent%20Families)

In June 2011, there were 1.2 million jobless families - some 19% of all families. Of these, 910 thousand were jobless couple families - about 1 in every 6 couple families - and 290 thousand jobless lone parent families - almost 1 in every 3 lone parent families.

(
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/29A3CF0D42678E8CCA25791800129C47?opendocument)


The revision of the Fair Incentives to Work legislation was initially introduced in 2006, when there were approx. 800000 single parent families receiving PPS.  The change in legislation, which moved single parents from PPS to Newstart when their youngest child turned 8, (rather than receiving PPS until youngest child turned 16) would apply to new applicants after July 2006. Existing PPS recipients would continue to receive PPS under the former legislation – known as Grandfathering.
The provision for “grandfathering” of PPS recipients at the time was a deliberate move by the then Liberal party Government to make the changes in legislation more palatable to the general public.

Senator SINODINOS (New South Wales) - Tuesday, 9 October 2012 “It was a very deliberate decision on the part of the government to grandfather people who were on these payments at a certain date. The reason for that was actually to make it easier for the public to accept the reform by making it clear that it was not having a retrospective impact but rather that it was focused on new recipients. This has been an important principle in a lot of social security legislation and, indeed, tax legislation over the years. Its purpose was to make it easier for the community to accept the reform.” (
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F3a74ad30-c7a6-48d2-b316-bc4615cee12a%2F0011%22).

As such, the change in policy went largely unnoticed and undisputed in the wider community, just as the Government intended.

The introduction of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Bill 2012 which endorsed moving “grandfathered” sole parents from PPS to Newstart if their youngest child had turned 8 before Jan 2013, is an ill thought out and prematurely implemented policy which has been found by the Governments own Parliamentary Committee to violate the human rights of sole parents and their families in Australia.

Mr Harry Jenkins MP, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Fifth Report of 2013 (March 2013) “
1.120 The committee considers that the government has not provided the necessary evidence to demonstrate that the total support package available to individuals who are subject to these measures is sufficient to satisfy minimum essential levels of social security as guaranteed in article 9 of the ICESCR and the minimum requirements of the right to an adequate standard of living in Australia as guaranteed in article 11 of the ICESCR. Nor has it indicated the basis on which it makes that assessment. In the absence of this information, the committee is unable to conclude that these measures are compatible with human rights.”

If the change in policy has been found to violate the human rights of the sole parents who were still “grandfathered” under previous legislation then it follows that moving sole parents to Newstart when their youngest child turns 8 has ALWAYS been a violation of human rights given that the Newstart payment has not been increased in real terms for 20 years.


The Newstart allowance, in its absolute form has been shown to be an inadequate level of income support for a single unemployed person with no dependent children. The Newstart allowance is undisputedly recognised to be $140/fn below the poverty line.

A study involving a single mother with 3 children over the age of 8, has shown that on PPS the Mothers net financial position was much higher. In one fortnight the parent worked 25 hours on casual pay and earned $845.25 and then received $526.04 from the PPS pension. However, on NewStart, the parent worked 42 hours in one fortnight on Part-time pay and earned $846.39 and claimed $225.16 in allowance. This is a total of $1371.28 for the fortnight compared with $1071.55 (Loss of $300.00/fn) with a 17 hour increase in work time – time away from her children.

The Newstart allowance is a completely inappropriate form of income support for a sole parent family. The unique needs of a sole parent family are entirely different to a single person with no dependent children and a coupled family where both parents can share the responsibility of raising their children. Parenting is and should be recognised as a full time job.



The policies and decision making by this Government fail to recognise the value of parents and are destroying the family unit – the building block of our future society.

Sole parents do the job of two parents. They don’t have time off, they don’t get holidays and the increasing financial pressure being placed on sole parent families will not produce a healthy nor stable future society.  Grandparents raising their grandchildren, have also been moved to Newstart and these elderly people, who have already contributed a life time of paying taxes and contributing to the community, have been sent to Job Service Providers and told they need to start actively looking for work in order to keep their Newstart payments.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) Tuesday, 9 October 2012 argued:
“Schedule 1 of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Bill 2012 will drive already vulnerable single parents, the majority of whom are single mothers, further into poverty. What this bill does is drop single parents who are currently on parenting payment single down to a payment which is nearly $140 less than what they are on at the moment. We know that Newstart is now around $132 to $140 below the poverty line. In other words, we are dropping single parents onto the poverty line. Aren't single parents still parents? It is not only the mothers and fathers that we are dropping there, but their children as well. That is what you are about to pass in this place.”

http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber%2Fhansards%2F3a74ad30-c7a6-48d2-b316-bc4615cee12a%2F0012;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F3a74ad30-c7a6-48d2-b316-bc4615cee12a%2F0011%22

90% of sole parents in Australia are women. This policy is therefore also a violation of women’s rights. There is a rising concern amongst the sole parent community, that women will stay in violent relationships because they will not be afforded the financial support to meet their most basic needs of housing, food, transport, clothing and education for their children should they leave.
This policy, aided by the Members of Parliament who refuse to oppose it, facilitates violence towards women and children by failing to ensure adequate levels of financial support for domestic violence victims.

Allowing sole parents to study as a recognised activity under Parenting Payment Single, provided an enormous incentive for sole parents to increase their skills and education level once their children were at school. Many sole parents, who were supported under the Parenting Payment Single pension, report that because they were financially supported to study, they were able to find better jobs and leave the welfare system entirely, providing an excellent example of the benefits in providing adequate levels of income support to sole parents. 
 
Moving sole parents to Newstart, which does not allow them to commence study after their youngest child has turned 8, entraps families in the welfare system and creates a cycle of poverty rather than alleviating the circumstances which restrict sole parents to working in casual or part time employment for low wages. This will cost the Australian Government exponentially more in continued welfare support for people who are unable to study or retrain and therefore enter higher paid jobs.

Sole parents who have left a marriage, who may have funds from a marital property settlement, are unable to buy their own homes, buy a car, have a credit card or get a loan. The Newstart payment, as opposed to the Parenting Payment, is an unemployment benefit and is not recognised by lending institutions as an income.

The elected members of the Australian parliament who refuse to address these issues, are perpetrators of negligence.

The elected members of the Australian parliament are public servants, who assume a duty of care to the people they represent when they accept their ministerial positions. Allowing sole parents and their families to suffer incredible hardship and forcing them to remain trapped in a cycle of welfare dependence under this inappropriate legislation constitutes a dereliction of their duty of care. Damage in the form of sole parents experiencing increased rates of poverty, homelessness, depression, domestic violence and distress at not being able to provide the most basic needs for their families is a direct result of this failure of elected members to adequately carry out their duty of care.

There are approximately 900 000 sole parents in Australia and they all vote. Their families and friends also vote. Allies of the Sole Parents Movement also vote.

The votes of these people will be given to those electoral candidates who are prepared to meet their duty of care obligations to the public who elect them.

The following are the demands of the Sole Parents Movement and their allies.

1.  An immediate reversal of the cuts to Parenting payment single.
2. An immediate return of ALL sole parents to Parenting payment single until their youngest child turns 18. (A child is not legally recognised as an adult in any other law until age 18). 
3. An immediate revision of the base rate of Parenting payment single to ensure that it is above the poverty line and provides adequate support for a reasonable standard of living. 
4. An immediate amendment to the legislation to introduce compulsory workforce participation when a sole parent’s youngest child turns 12. Most sole parents will enter the workforce much sooner by choice, however provision needs to be made for parents who have at risk children and other obstacles to looking for work.
5. An immediate reinstatement of the Pensioner Education Supplement and a continued commitment to allow sole parents to combine study and work to meet their participation requirements.

Maarit Hahkomaa is a Sole Parent activist campaigning for the rights of all sole parents and their families in Australia.

13 comments:

  1. Well argued case. There are so many lies being spread and sadly, the average Australian is incredibly selfish and look for any reason to slag off another person.

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  2. It's a cruel joke that while all partnered working mums get the baby bonus to acknowledge the productivity of motherhood, while that same acknowledgement of the labour of mothering/parenting and its primary contribution to social wealth is completely denied in these changes to parenting payments. More of crush the most disadvantages, butter up the blooming middle classes and the gross millionaires.

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  3. Single parents who are primary cares for a child with a disability are already struggling and this added insanity to then try to get work on top of that when there are little available after school care supports...they get harassed by centrelink when they are alredy burden by care.

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  4. One issue I find, that is missing from all of these demands, and which was made apparent in the article, is the issue of Grandparents raising grandchildren or older parents still raising children - say over the age of 50.
    These parents should not be required to claim Newstart ever!!
    In fact, there should be a completely separate allowance for Grandparents raising grandchildren, irrespective of the age of the children. And as for parents still raising children over the age of 50, there should be a special dispensation for them too (there used to be a benefit called the Widows Pension for women over 50 still raising children, whether they were widowed, divorced, etc). These parents' chances of finding employment or engaging in study is very limited, due to time out of the workforce, educational level reached and quite often physical inability. Yet they are doing society a great service by providing for children long after the societal norm, and after they have finished having children of their own. A lot of older 'parents' have physical restrictions, and or medical conditions that mean they should be the ones being taken care of at this time in their lives, not caring for and raising the children of their children. They may have a 'menopause' baby that came along unexpectedly, shaking the foundations of their 'empty nest' relationship and leaving them as single parents at a later time in their lives, leaving them financially bereft and emotionally exhausted. These older 'parent' caregivers should not be penalised by having to seek employment or retraining as a part of the requirements for their receiving any welfare payment.

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    Replies
    1. I agree wholeheartedly. Prior to the changes in legislation in Jan 2013, these older parents were on Parenting Payment and not on Newstart. Returning the Parenting Payment does address the issue of Grandparents raising another generation of children. I think its appalling that anyone in our rich country should be treated this way.

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  5. {There are many women who are on Newstart who are 50-65 simply because their husbands are now on aged pensions ( age discrepancy). No one is talking about them getting a job, they mainly do 'volunteer' work ( along with caring for their aging husbands).}
    Why does a 'Progressive party' think that having a child is NOT work?
    I am very disappointed that parenthood is not being respected and regarded as an important contribution to the future.

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  6. It is not surprising that the Gillard-Swan government has shifted thousands of single parents from the single parenting payment onto the harsh conditions of NewStart. The federal ALP is governing in the interests of the corporate and financial elite, backed by sections of the big business media. Punishing single parents (mostly women) as a form of 'incentive' to search for work is a peverse and cruel form of economic compulsion. Yes, I suppose the Roman Empire provided an incentive to their slaves to make them work - flogging in public. Pushing people into poverty will actually make it harder to find suitable employment.

    Well, the Gillard-Swan government is ruling in line with the corporate and industrial elite, adding further downward pressure on wages and conditions by implementing this decision. Without a concerted, political push by trade unions, organised working class fightback and coordination with single parent groups, the May Budget will not reverse this decision, but will actually contain even more attacks on the working class. I guess Gillard is the most rightwing Labourite prime minister since the contemptible and narrow-minded bigot, Billy Hughes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Herein lies the problem. Single parents are not equipped to fight back. They have no union behind them. They cant strike. If they dont comply with the ridiculous demands of Job Service Providers and Centrelink requirements, they risk losing their support income instantly. No warning. If their payments to utilities are made through Centrepay, and they dont receive a payment, their utilities dont get paid.
      How do single parents fight back?
      The decision to move single parents to an unemployment benefit only reinforces the ill conceived public perception that single parents don't work. Clearly not supported by statistical data.

      Single parents, who are mostly women, are already marginalised, stigmatised, oppressed and suppressed.
      Considering Maslows hierarchy of needs - human instinct is such that if one is forced into survival mode, one is unable to focus on anything other than survival. If you are physically under threat, you dont stop to observe the flowers growing nearby. Your body responds with the fight or flight reflex.
      Oppressing people to the point where they are simply fighting to survive, as many single parents now are, means that it takes incredible discipline and energy to even think of ways to fight back.

      How do single parents protest? If you cant afford a bus fare to the protest location, you cant go. If what little money you have is needed for survival, you cant spend it on printing flyers or making phone calls.

      There are many other aspects of this policy that I didnt write about.
      Children are becoming socially isolated because their parents cant afford for them to participate in out of school activities.
      Parents are reporting that their stress levels climb if their child asks to have a friend over to play - one more mouth to feed.
      If people cant afford to buy meat and fresh fruit and vegetables, health problems escalate.
      If people cant see a way out of this poverty trap, depression rates climb.

      Take an average $100/week out of the budget of 100000 people, every week, and that's a LOT of money that isn't being spent in local communities, small businesses, on our economy.
      My 13 year old daughter asked, isn't that what caused the great depression?

      The long term societal impacts of this barbaric policy will cost our nation billions of dollars - I don't see how that's a fair exchange for the petty cash it is reported to be saving the current government.
      Of course, the current government most likely wont be governing in five or ten years time when the consequences of such economic foolishness are seen.
      So I guess, it's really not their problem. It's a problem that will be left as a legacy for our children.


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  7. You are absolutely right Maarit!

    When you are living on the breadline, the only thing you think about is where your next meal will come from. That is why it is imperative for the rest of us, who are in a position to organise, to do something. I think there were protests in various cities across Australia, organised by single parents, precisely on this issue. I know that Socialist Alliance was involved in protests about single parenting payment issue in Melbourne. It is a step in the right direction.

    Yes, the impact on children is quite deleterious, leaving them isolated from others because the single parent cannot afford to involve them in social activities.

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  8. "I guess Gillard is the most rightwing Labourite prime minister since the contemptible and narrow-minded bigot, Billy Hughes". I agree absolutely, and remember it came to power in a coup driven by the mining companies to avoid paying any mining "super tax", something which they completely succeeded in. And this barbaric measure on single parents is perhaps its most rightwing policy. Yet astonishingly, as people are understandably and rightly terrified of Abbott, lots of intelligent folk have turned to dressing up the Gillard regime as a government of great vision and reform. Somehow missing the point that Gillard will give us Abbott, and make-believe and fantasies expressed among friends (who already won't vote Abbott) won't stop that. Part of the "vision" is supposed to be the NDIS, in reality a dangerous corporatisation of disability funding in many respects, but even if we would certainly welcome more funds for disability despite the NDIS program, it must be remembered that the ALP govt not only drove sole parents onto Newstart, but drove a large number of people with disabilities - deemed "fit for work" - onto Newstart as well. Gotta love the vision.

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  9. Agree there's some bad decisions there, Michael; and some questionable values (at best opportunism); But there have been some good things re: wage subsidy and career paths for some of our most disadvantaged workers - most of them women. (child care, aged care, community services) And while the education reforms are reprioritisation rather than new money - and only half what was originally promised - for disadvantaged primary and secondary students it will nonetheless make a positive difference - and could help save the state education sector. As for NDIS - we just don't know yet - We'll find out in May.

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  10. It feels so nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on Childcare Hills Area. Really thank full to you for starting this.

    ReplyDelete
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