This June marks a four-year anniversary for my little family, made up of one parent and one little boy. I named him Ariel, which in Hebrew means “Lion of God”. I named him that because I knew our lives would be tough and he would need to be strong.
When I found out I was pregnant in August 2008 I decided instantly that I would be a mother. In the next 24 hours the father informed me he did not wish to be a father and would have no involvement in the child’s life — and so began my new life as a single mother.
It took some getting used to. It is not for the faint of heart, the weak, the lazy or those prone to self-pity. If you know a decent parent you will know it is a tough job for anyone. Doing it alone is hard. Probably due to the extra stress, single mothers have been shown to have poorer health in their 40s than married mums.
Sixty-six percent of university graduates in Australia are female. They consistently out-perform males throughout school and higher education. Yet the average Australian male makes $1 million more in their lifetime than the average woman. Many women face unemployment and homelessness at many stages in their lives when marriages fail and men withdraw their support.
I share my personal story with you for two reasons. Firstly, it is an election year and Labor are campaigning for women to re-elect Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, who has succeeded spectacularly in a man’s world only to remain the target of sexist abuse on a regular basis.
Yet despite her three years in power, Gillard has seriously let down single mothers in what is clearly a gender issue — 98% of single parents of children under eight are women.
The second reason is that I have been privileged to have been able to access 20 years of education, including a university degree. My years as an environmental campaigner have taught me how to get a message out. My time analysing policy made me realise the profound effect that changing laws can have on the lives of thousands of people.
Single mothers are often talked about by (mostly male) journalists, politicians and academics. Rarely do the public actually get to hear the opinion of the mums who live below the poverty line.
I write this so you can read at least one single mother’s point of view.
My son is four. His dad held him for 10 minutes in June 2009 then left for a beer and I haven't seen him since. He must pay 10% of his income or $10,000 a year.
I receive a parenting payment single pension (PPS) and earn about $150 a week profit running a small tutoring business as a sole trader. It adds up to about $32,000 a year
In addition I study a Masters in teaching part-time. The degree will take four years but is the only way I can get a full-time job that allows me to look after my son by the time he turns eight.
I am a qualified environmental scientist and policy researcher but cannot do this work as it demands constant travel, a minimum 40 hours a week and I have no help with care duties for my autistic son.
I have a working-class background and no other way to support my family than through receiving the parenting payment.
I live 70 kilometres from the university I attend as I cannot afford the rent in Newcastle. My son is undergoing an expensive 18-month process to be diagnosed formally with autism.
I am categorised in the census as a regional, sole carer of a child with a disability, self-employed, postgraduate student and an unwed mother. The wristband they gave me in hospital had a code on it. The midwife explained that it was for an “at-risk mother”.
The absent men are rarely questioned in media reports regarding this issue. It is a man’s decision if he wants to be a dad. It is a woman’s choice if she wants to be a mother or abort once a pregnancy is known. But this is a recent choice for women in Australia.
Gough Whitlam introduced a single-parent payment during his brief role as prime minister in 1974.
It was an amazing improvement for Australian women. Since then, subsequent governments have eroded these benefits, including the current Labor government.
But why introduce the parenting payment in the first place?
Before abortion was legal, women filled the hemorrhage wards in the hospitals of all major capital cities. Many bled to death in backyard "clinics". In many cases they told their parents they were just going out to the pictures and never came home.
Those women who had their babies had them forcibly removed. A report by ABC’s Four Corners last year interviewed a woman who pleaded to the nurses in hospital not to take her child away.
She recalled the reply of the nurse as “Well how do you plan to support it. By being a prostitute? That seems to be all you are qualified for.”
The practice of removing babies from single mothers continued until Whitlam introduced the PPS in 1974. The federal government recently apologised to the thousands of adults who were removed as another “stolen generation”. Today the government recognises that raising a child alone is an important full-time job and one worthy of support.
Former prime minister John Howard introduced changes to the Welfare Act in 2006. New applicants for the PPS would stop receiving payment after their youngest child turned eight. Those who were already receiving the payment would continue until their youngest child turned 18.
This year, Gillard introduced even harsher laws, which forced all sole parents onto the Newstart allowance after their youngest child turned eight, an unemployment benefit that is $200 less a fortnight than the PPS.
Single parents are the majority of Labor’s “working families” — 66% of Australian children will not have married parents by the time they reach high school.
Single mums make every dollar count. Taking up to 30% of their income away means one less haircut, one less sport club, one less specialist appointment, one less pair of shoes that growing feet need, every week.
It makes a big difference and it is punitive to not just single parents but their kids too. Research by the Salvation Army has shown the impact of switching single parent families onto the Newstart allowance is severe, with 7% of single parents and their children homeless.
Who pays the difference when absent fathers and the government relinquish their duty of care to the majority of these children?
It’s the single mums and their kids who will pay.