Scomo's latest welfare cuts: 130,000 sole parents lose out

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(Image via @ScoMoBoatphobe)

One in three sole parents are unemployed but the Coalition Government still talks welfare cuts. Leon Moulden warns that focussing on the poor and vulnerable will forfeit our right to a tolerant, fair, and equitable society.

ONCE AGAIN, ABS Labour Force data shines a spotlight on the economic experience of Australian families. Highlighting the degree of unemployment families are experiencing, especially sole parent families with children.

The new Labour Force statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Monday, provide a view of unemployment at the very tangible level of the family unit. These statistics show that many Australian families don’t have a single member of their family in employment. In total, there are over 329,000 families with dependants in Australia that don’t have at least one family member in work. But as in previous years, it is sole parent families that are over represented in these statistics.

The statistics clearly show that while sole parent families account for only 15% of all families, they account for third of jobless families. And of these jobless sole parent families, 90% have children under the age of 15 years, with single mother families accounting for 84% of all sole parent families. Furthermore, unemployed sole parents tend to be those with the youngest children, thus only 37% of sole parents with children under the age of five are in employment.

Yet even with significant numbers of families experiencing life without work, the nation’s Treasurer, Scott Morrison is taking welfare recipient bashing to a new level with his “the taxed and the taxed-nots.” So it is timely that the ABS data reminds us that there are many Australian families struggling to find employment. And, that many of these families are sole parents caring for children.

And while the last set of ABS Unemployment data may have demonstrated a small decrease in seasonally adjusted unemployment from 5.8% to 5.7%, it also showed that there are still over 725,000 Australians who cannot find work. This is understandable when at the time there were only approximately 172,000 jobs created.

With unemployment and jobs figures like this, how can any government realistically expect Australians to reduce accessing welfare payments? The jobs figures do not match unemployment figures. There are over four times as many unemployed Australians as there are jobs. Does the Government think that jobs will be miraculously created just by routinely chanting “jobs and growth” or innovation?

Attacking the unemployed by labelling them the “taxed not” is not the answer to employment. This style of language is only a new version of the old dichotomy of “the battler” and “dole bludger.” It is not the answer to the nation’s problems. It is a false categorisation of our society into divisive and arbitrary labels.

Good public policy is not about blaming the victim, or finding a scapegoat for the budget deficit. It is about providing a policy framework that supports the nation’s citizens. It is about providing the policy settings that enables citizens to be productive and active agents in their own community. It is not about marginalising those in need.

But to add insult to injury, the Coalition Government insists that a $50 billion tax cut to companies over the next decade is both fair and affordable. While at the same time saying that keeping welfare payments like Newstart at current levels is unaffordable.

The Coalition Government is insisting that the current Energy Supplement should be scrapped for all new welfare recipients including those on Newstart. This would cut Newstart by $4.40 per week and reduce recipients who already live at 26% below the poverty line, to be living at 32% below the poverty line. Consequently leaving the most disadvantaged in our community to carry the burden of budget repair, while the nation’s largest corporations receive a tax cut.

If this were such a reasonable policy, there would be support for it across mainstream Australia. There isn’t. Instead, prominent Australians are signing their names to The Australia Institute’s Open Letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling on him to abandon his Government’s proposed cuts to Newstart payments.

The reasons are obvious. Currently, an unemployed single parent with children receives $570.80 per fortnight. That’s only $285.40 per week. How is a parent with a child or children supposed to pay rent or a mortgage, put food on the table, pay for utilities, and look for work on this? Now the government is saying that this is too much, and they must live on less. In a country that claims to believe in a fair go, how is this fair?

Responsible representative governments should be governments of considered well-developed policy, supported by empirical evidence. Not governments of reactionary knee-jerk dog-whistling policy that is all about retribution and punishment.

We consistently hear from centre-right governments, that they are governments of stability and that only they can provide adult government. Yet, the language that centre-right governments use to describe welfare recipients and their subsequent policy prescriptions suggests otherwise.

Any policy that posits taking from the most disadvantaged in the community to give to the most advantaged, is the antithesis of good public policy and good representative government.

Indeed, Australians expect their governments to enact social policy that is fair and equitable. They believe that both equality and fairness are important aspects of a good society.

An Essential Poll in 2014 showed that 51% of Australians believe equality is very important and 38% believe it is somewhat important, while 62% believe fairness is very important and 30% believe it is somewhat important. In total, 89% of Australians believe equality is important to some degree, and 92% believe fairness is important to some degree.

This would suggest that the Coalition Government is out of step with community expectations when it comes to equality and fairness, and that reducing welfare payments for those in need is also out of step with community expectations.

The language of “taxed and taxed not”, like the “lifters and leaners” before it, and the “deserving and undeserving” back in the Howard years, does not live up to the expectations Australians have for a fair and equitable society.

This language does not explain why Australians are compelled to access welfare benefits. It does not explain why in a civilised society adequate welfare benefits are necessary. Nor does it achieve anything towards assisting people in finding gainful employment, especially the one in three unemployed sole parents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Moreover, it achieves nothing in creating a harmonious, tolerant, fair, and equitable society. In fact, it will likely achieve the opposite. It will likely create an Australia of individuals, competing for what they can get at the expense of others. An Australia in which there is no society — only Individuals. Margaret Thatcher would have been proud of her modern antipodean conservative brethren.

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