Single mother of three Juanita McLaren lodged a complaint in the United Nations in March against the Australian government over its discrimination against single mothers.
McLaren is being supported by the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children which wants the parenting payments’ scheme and the newly-introduced ParentsNext program to be held up to greater scrutiny.
Since 2012, single parents have been moved from the single parenting payment (now $384.25 a week) to the Newstart allowance ($297.55 a week) when their youngest child turns eight.
McLaren told the UN Commission on the Status of Women how, when this happened to her, she was “already $400 a month short”. She sold figs online to buy bread and milk. She undertook a master’s degree so she could find a stable, well-paid job, but she could not continue studying full-time when her income support was cut.
She also explained how, as a single woman, she was forced to ask another person to sign a statutory declaration to prove her relationship status to be eligible for the payment.
While McLaren is under no illusion that the federal government will take immediate action, she hopes the case will promote a nationwide conversation about the poor treatment of single mothers and show single mothers that action is being taken to ensure they are treated better.
So far, the federal government has been able to ignore McLaren’s complaint as Australia doesn’t have a Bill of Rights.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, making the ParentsNext program compulsory breaches the country’s human rights obligations.
Jobs minister Kelly O’Dwyer allocated $350 million towards funding the ParentsNext program. As Parents against ParentsNext spokesperson Ella Buckland tweeted:”None of that money goes to women, it goes to the job network ‘providers’.”
A Senate inquiry recently delivered its report on the ParentsNext program and found significant flaws. According to Buckland, every stakeholder who was not employed by the government said that the program should be made voluntary.
Unsurprisingly, the report did not reflect this.
Despite overwhelming agreement to make the program voluntary, Labor has said that if it is elected it will continue the program.
I am a single mother and can vouch that my own recent ParentsNext interview resembled a script from a John Clarke and Bryan Dawe skit.
The case worker was apologetic and naïve. She asked me if I had found courses so that could up-skill, even after I explained that I am a professional arts worker with a Master’s degree and that up-skilling would require more than undertaking a short course.
She replied that Centrelink considered me “welfare dependent” because I was not earning enough money.
There are big barriers to being able to gain full-time employment in any industry and in my industry full-time jobs are a scarcity.
The “arts industry” is driven by the gig economy and current workforce conditions do not fit adequately within Centrelink’s guidelines.
In addition, I often work in jobs where I may get a half payment at the beginning of the job and the rest at the end.
The Centrelink reporting system means that my income reporting to secure my payment can be inaccurate. That triggers an email, via MyGov, from Centrelink to verify my single status (the only people who can receive the Single Parenting Payment).
Single parents who have been on the parenting payment before last September also receive a statutory declaration form, which needs to be filled out by someone other than the family or ex-partner to prove my single status.
So, not only are single mothers being forced to prove their worth they are also being asked to prove their honesty.
It is tough enough coping with day-to-day preconceptions; now we have to prove that we are not only contributing to society by working and rearing children, but also that we are not liars.
If the government genuinely wants to assist single mothers, it must make ParentsNext voluntary.
[For more information follow Parents against ParentsNext on Facebook.]