When I separated nine years ago, my youngest son was 3 and my eldest had just started school.
I worked in my partner’s business doing his books and continued to do so after our separation until it just became too difficult. But I had to work so I turned to one thing I knew I did well to bring in some extra income – cleaning – because I wanted my son to attend the local independent Christian school. My ex continued to pay the mortgage as his share of child support.
The first year after our separation was the most difficult and draining in my entire life. Not only were there the emotional issues to deal with, but the legal separation of assets, settlement of custody issues and setting up of child support payments were a difficult time.
I managed to keep our home – really a small tin shack – to give the boys some stability but, to do so, meant enormous sacrifices. We lived like paupers during this time. I would feed the kids; but sometimes I would go without to make sure we had enough money to get us through to the next pay day.
Then my pastor rang to ask if I’d like to do some relief work doing data entry at the YMCA Victoria. I was thrilled! I had been a supervisor in data entry at NAB before I had children, but being a much smaller organisation, the YMCA gave me more experience, such as in accounts payable and receivable and payroll. I also job shared with another mum, which was perfect because it meant I had the opportunity to go to important school events such as sports carnivals.
At last, life was getting a little easier and better. But after five years, my employer moved to the other side of Melbourne which meant a 90 minute commute each way for me, and that became really difficult. Fortunately, I was offered a role with my former boss at YMCA Australia which was a much closer and I have now been there two years.
Being employed all this time meant that I eventually sold the tin shack and bought a bigger and better home not too far away. I have had a great time doing some minor renovations and not long ago completed painting the inside of the house myself (next is the outside). I also recently purchased a new car, a Mazda 3, after my previous Mazda – which I had for 18 years – finally gave up. I was able to afford this as I had some NAB shares left from when I had worked there years before.
But, about three weeks before Christmas, I received a call that would crush my spirit.
It was Centrelink. I was told that, along with thousands of other parents, I would be forced onto Newstart and would lose up to $235 a fortnight.
I was in total disbelief. I wondered how we would survive and knew that we would go back to where we were when I was cleaning for a living.
It was a very modest Christmas. I bought the kids only what they needed and nothing of what they actually wanted. They understood and were happy with that and told me not to worry. I bought my youngest hiking shoes for his boy’s brigade and school camp hikes and I bought my eldest just a pair of shorts, t-shirt and tracksuit pants.
We also had a holiday. Earlier in the year, I had booked a stay at Lakes Entrance with a living social voucher, and a friend and her baby came with us, sharing the cost. Another friend also invited us to stay at Torquay where we had a tent next to her van. We had a good time but I couldn’t relax.
The first Centrelink payment after Christmas didn’t seem too bad as we received the back to school bonus payment. But the following payment came in and I only received $6.80, which was for a pharmaceutical benefit.
Do I work so much that I don’t get anything from Newstart?
I cried and cried for days. I couldn’t stop crying. My spirit got lower and lower and I became depressed. I felt like I did when I split up with my ex-husband and was going through all the legal battles. I knew that it was fear of the unknown and of poverty.
I soon joined a Facebook site known as SPAG (Single Parents Action Group), and learned that there were somany others affected by this decision of the Government. Reading their stories brought me to tears and I realised that, even though it was tough for me, it was even tougher for others. Because of their stories, I was prompted to become more involved and have been working with SPAG and other parents affected to bring these issues to the attention of the public.
Our plight was listened to by Adam Bandt, the Federal Greens MP for the seat of Melbourne. He understood what we were saying and what impact it would have on single parents like myself and my new friends I met through SPAG. Adam also took a seven day challenge to live off Newstart which you can read about here.
I have worked out my budget and found that I have to stop private health insurance (the kids are paid for by my ex-partner); my trauma life insurance which is enough to pay the mortgage if anything happened to me so the kids are not left homeless; and my sponsor child overseas who we have been supporting for nine years now. With child support, the salary from my part-time work and the income tested Newstart allowance, I realised also that I cannot afford basics like haircuts, clothes, school or church activities, presents or holidays.
I now realise it’s going to be even tougher than before.
On the plus side, I have my home. But do I sell it? Rent would be more expensive! Do I move my kids to government school? My eldest son is in Year 10 and is only now starting to settle after struggling from Year 1 through to Year 8 because of separation and conflict issues. The school has done an amazing job supporting him emotionally, academically and spiritually. My youngest son is in Year 7 and suffers from chronic health issues which are mostly stress related. He is again sick and I wonder if it’s because he has picked up on the emotional strain I am feeling.
Single parents like me want the public to know that we don’t sit around watching television all day, but we work and study, try to be good parents and try to improve our lives and those of our children.
The Parenting Payment was a supplement to our wages to top it up to be like a full time income so we could survive and still be able to be a mum and a dad in our house.
Now we are forced into poverty. I’m hoping that people will hear us and the Government will hear us and things will change!
The Parenting Payment was our safety net as we didn’t have a supporting partner in our homes. It was a safety net to ensure that women and children who were subject to violence could leave their abuser. It was a safety net to ensure that single parents could study and improve themselves so they could earn more and eventually free themselves from government support giving themselves and their children a better quality of life. It was a safety net for those that lost work at times so there was always something to keep them going. It was a safety net for single parents so they could work and still be available for children after school to take them to after school activities. Now, our safety net is now gone.
We are not asking for a ‘hand-out’ from the Government for the rest of our lives. We are merely asking for the safety net to be returned so we can give our children the life we hoped for on the day they were born.