Labor’s attack on single parents in the May budget has sparked outrage among community sector organisations that work with low-income single mothers and children.
Gillard’s new policy will force around 100,000 single parents, 90 per cent of whom are women, onto Newstart unemployment payments when their youngest child turns eight. This will slash their weekly income by up to $223 a fortnight, or 12.8 per cent.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has demanded a parliamentary inquiry, arguing that the policy violates basic human rights. The government claims the policy is an incentive to push single mothers into the workforce. Gillard has tried to defend the decision, arguing: “…it will be better for them [single parents] because they’ll have a job for the rest of their lives, and better for the child to have someone in the household modeling what it’s like to go to work every day.”
But almost all recipients are already forced to search for jobs in order to receive payments and around half already work in low paid casual and part-time jobs.
Unemployed single mothers whose only income comes from parenting payments live below the poverty line. As ACOSS states, “The reasons that the other half do not have paid jobs now include low skills, poor local job prospects, caring for a disabled child, and illness or disability”.
Recipients tend to live in areas where unemployment is high, like Sydney’s western suburbs where employment rates reach 10 per cent. Work available is often in the evening and on weekends, and with lack of access to quality and free childcare outside school hours or adequate public transport, single mothers face a series of systemic obstacles to finding suitable employment.
These cuts will only entrench the cycle of poverty that many single parent families find themselves in. A recent Anglicare report showed that over 15 per cent of children in Australia live in families unable to buy food.
The policy shows how skewed the Labor government’s priorities are. In 2006 Howard introduced similar cuts as part of his welfare to work scheme. At the time Labor opposed the cuts because they left single mothers worse off without offering any improvement to employment opportunities. But in government Labor failed to reverse these cuts—and are now implementing an even harsher policy.
Gillard could help single mothers out of poverty by increasing welfare payments, providing state-funded childcare centres, free public transport and better public housing. But instead, Gillard is sacrificing single mothers to pay for Labor’s budget surplus. Meanwhile, she has assured business that she supports cutting the corporate tax rate even further. Gillard wants to rule for the rich and make the poorest in society pay.