Sole parents butt of welfare cuts

Issue 
Sole parents have lost many benefits under both Labor and Coalition governments.

Recently Facebook reminded me of a “memory” of an article I posted three years ago. I had said that I was doing the happy dance because we were making progress and were finally being heard.

The article in my Facebook “memory” was from The Australian of June 28, 2013. It said: “Kevin Rudd will reverse some of the cuts to the welfare payments of single parents and commit to an in-principle pledge to increase Newstart, in a radical departure from Julia Gillard's welfare agenda.

“Senior Labor sources have told The Australian that Mr Rudd is committed to reversing the cuts, which have been widely attacked for hurting the most vulnerable women, caused great distress in Labor's heartland and damaged the party's reputation as a defender of the most disadvantaged.”

After the Coalition won government in the federal election of 2013, sole parents were again given a small glimmer of hope. Then-Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews said after meeting many single mothers, he was convinced that the impact of Labor's cuts had been deep and devastating and believed child welfare should be the government's chief concern.

But the first budget the Coalition government released was devastating and a huge blow to single parents — as if they were not already doing it tough. Since the move to Newstart, sole parents have been told they are nothing but leaners. Yet now they are doing all the heavy lifting, with more cuts in this year's budget to fund the government's childcare package, due to start in 2017.

New sole parents were moved from the Parenting Payment to Newstart by the John Howard Government in 2006. Then, in 2013, existing sole parents were moved onto Newstart by the Gillard government, with as little as three weeks' notice. The Newstart payment is 40% below the poverty line and has not been significantly raised in 22 years.

The Schoolkids Bonus, which supported children in education with costly expenses such as computers, iPads, internet, uniforms, books, excursions and school camps, has been phased out. The last payment will be made in July.

The Low Income Support Bonus, which allowed those on low incomes to pay for those expensive bills that are difficult to save for, such as insurance, car registration and power, has also been phased out. The last payment will be in September.

The attacks continued with the Coalition's second budget, which was labelled the “fair and dull budget”, with more cuts to sole parents by the removal of Family Tax Benefit Part B — initially when the youngest child turned six but negotiated up to the age of 13. There is also a freeze in the indexation of Family Tax Benefit Part A for two years.

The new Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015 is stalled in parliament. The bill is to be funded by cuts to sole parents' Family Tax Benefit Part B payments, but this has been blocked by Labor, the Greens and cross bench Senators.

Sole parents want flexible childcare, but not when the cuts will make accessibility less affordable. It is not fair that this child care package will be funded by the most vulnerable in our community.

Sole parents want to work; but there are not enough family-friendly jobs for all the sole parents who desperately want and need them. We want school-hours jobs and job share positions — jobs that can help us still be parents to our children.

We need a full reinstatement of support — as a safety net — until our children turn 16. We need to ensure our children are given a decent start in life.

Gough Whitlam was a true prime minister for women. He had the courage and imagination to create serious change. We need to ensure his legacy is not lost in some of the changes proposed to good social policies.

We should remember his words in the 1972 election campaign launch: “The decision we will make for our country on 2 December is a choice between the past and the future, between the habits and fears of the past and the demands and opportunities of the future. ... It's time to create new opportunities for Australians, time for a new vision of what we can achieve in this generation for our nation and the region in which we live.”

More than 50 years later, today's news headline reads “Government launches fresh welfare crackdown”. This was just four days before the election. When will politicians have a heart? If they are serious about women and children escaping from domestic violence then they need to ensure we have the right supports put in place to rebuild our lives.

Bill Shorten said on September 23, 2013, he wanted to reverse the Gillard government's decision to move single parents onto the dole when their youngest child turned eight. “The measures we took had the wrong consequences,” he said. “I'm looking forward to working with our members to revisit our position on sole parents. Sole parents do it hard. They work hard, and a lot more sole parents are working than some of the initial debate gives them credit for.”

During the election campaign sole parents were desperately looking to see who would support them and their families and who would push them further into poverty.

We urge Bill Shorten to be a leader and pledge to return sole parents to the Parenting Payment once again.

[Kerry Arch is the founder of United Sole Parents of Australia.]

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