Kerry Arch, who tells us her story today, says she was moved to become an advocate for changes to parenting allowances after she was brought to tears by the stories of other single parents via the Single Parents Action Group (SPAG) on Facebook.
SPAG coalesceced around the issue of the Gillard Government’s changes to the Parenting Payment announced in last year’s Federal Budget and brought into effect on 1st January this year.
The changes brought parents in receipt of parenting payments prior to 1st July 2006 into line with other parenting payments and on to a Newstart allowance, and also introduced a new income test for the Newstart allowance. The changes are estimated to affect 100,000 single parents and result in savings over four years of approximately $730 million.
The practical impact of these changes meant that many single parents, many of whom are in employment and/or study, were significantly worse off than previously.
The Government’s view is that these changes bring “consistency” and “fairness” to an otherwise complex set of arrangements. The Government also said that it would move single parents into work and end “the corrosive aimlessness of welfare.” The Opposition has declared it support for these changes.
But opponents, such as the Greens and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), say there is nothing ‘fair’ about placing more single parents and their children onto a lower allowance, and the vast majority of single parents were already required to seek part time employment with 50% already in employment. The other half who are not employed are because of low skills, poor local job prospects, caring for a child with a disability or their own illness or disability.
Experts such as Professor Morag McArthur of the Australian Catholic University dismiss the commonly held stereotype that single parents – particularly younger single mums – are not interested in pursuing education or employment.
“Our research at the Institute for Child Protection Studies shows that all parents, including single parents and young parents, are very aware of the role employment can play in improving their lives and the wellbeing of their children. Many young mothers are very keen to start planning for this stage of their lives. They know that employment is a way out of poverty.”
Kerry Arch has been employed almost all of the nine years since she separated from her former partner. She was also employed before she had her first child. She now receives around $200 less per fortnight under the new arrangements.
She says that learning about others through SPAG made her realise that others were doing it even tougher than her.
“I knew what it was like for me when I found out about the changes. I cried and cried for days. I couldn’t stop crying. But it was even worse for others.”
Through SPAG, Kerry and other single parents have tried to highlight the unique issues they face as single parents.
“Most single parents have no family who can help with the children. In my case, I rely solely on other school parents to look after my kids during school holidays when I have to work.”
She says financial stress takes its toll on the whole family.
“Being a single parent, I am also the taxi driver, home maintenance person, tutor, cook, cleaner, counsellor and the house renovator. It’s draining and it’s tiring. Financial stress takes its toll not only on the parent but also on children.”
Kerry Arch says that single parents are not asking for a hand-out for the rest of their lives.
“The Parenting Payment was a safety net for single parents. We just want that safety net returned so our kids are okay.
“The bottom-line is the Government is now contributing to welfare dependency. On the Parenting Payment it gave single parents some hope and an opportunity to build a brighter future.”
This is what Kerry Arch and other single parents would like to see:
* More flexible working arrangements. “Job sharing is great! And there should be more flexible arrangements in terms of working from home to look after kids when they’re sick and that sort of thing. This would help everyone.”
* Improved Job Seeker services. Kerry says government job seeker agencies are behind-the-times. “The advertised jobs are old, you have to do a 6-8 week course just to get a résumébecause the job agency gets funded to do it, even though most people don’t benefit from it. The computers are old and freeze all the time. And there’s no recognition of the qualifications or experience people already have.”
* Incentives for small business. “Single parents are often a good fit for small business because we like flexibility and so do they, but they face so much red tape and so many other payments and hurdles, it’s difficult for them.”
* Parenting courses. “Sometimes when a woman or man is left single, they’re also left not knowing much about some things we take for granted because their partner did it all. Things such as household budgeting, sensible shopping behaviour, time management, electronic banking, claiming from Medicare, eating healthy food while on a budget. And then there’s things like living with depression, feeling worthless after a relationship breaks down and getting some exercise. Dealing with that, at the same time as trying to be a responsible parent and making sure there’s food on the table, can be very, very difficult.”
* Rebates for vet bills. “I think this should be done for all low income earners. Everyone knows how good a dog or cat can be to a happy household, but vet’s bills can put pet ownership out of reach.”
SPAG is also submitting a petition to Parliament seeking an immediate increase of $80 per fortnight to Newstart with the same income test provisions for single parents as applied in the previous single parent payment, and immediate reinstatement of the education supplement or its equivalent.