Bashing single parents is bad policy

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Julia Gillard inspired a nation last week, but also condemned many single parents to a life of penury. Denise Allen reports.

Last week, our strong and inspiring Prime Minister ripped Tony Abbott a new one and called him out for the sexist bully he is.

It was a day for all Australians – regardless of whether you like or support the PM or not – and a moment in political history that no-one will forget in a hurry.

But on that very same day last week, without very much fanfare, her Party passed – with the help of the Coalition – a continuation of a Howard Government policy to reduce the income of single parents.

This Single Parent Pensions Bill is one of the most regressive policy platforms ever introduced by a Labor Government.

This bill, by reverting the Single Parent Payment to Newstart allowance once the youngest child turns eight, reduces the income support of a single parent by up to $100 per week — in some cases more.

That said, it is a slight improvement on the similar policy the Howard Government introduced in 2005 (effective July 2006) whereby Supporting Parent payments reduced to Newstart allowance when the youngest child turned just 6.

It is designed to coerce single parents back into the workforce.

Now I fully understand that there are many single parents in our society who do not attempt in any way to seek work, regardless of the age of their children. But these people – both women and men – are in the minority.

Some are relatively uneducated, have very poor social and employment skills and, even if they did have reasonable skills, many live in rural areas where employment vacancies are almost non-existent.

On the other hand, there are many single parents living in the city where rents are exorbitant, and transport and after-school care costs are an added financial burden.

Taking away up to $100 per week reduces a single parent’s ability to seek work or re-training and to function as a healthy, happy parent.

The stress that is going to be added to their daily struggle is going to be enormous.

I believe there should be “carrots” not “sticks” to encourage single parents into the work force.

Encouragement should be given to single parents to gain skills by returning to school through our TAFE system (although, now the Baillieu/O’Farrell/Newman Governments have slashed funding to TAFEs, that is going to be so much harder as well) or to enrol in a University.

How a single parent will be able to afford to do that now their income will be reduced by up to $100 per week is debatable (especially given the funding slashes to TAFE’s).

How will someone without a car manage?

How will someone without extended family support manage?

How will someone who already pays exorbitant rent manage?

What if they can’t get a job for months/years on end, no matter how hard they try?

Were these questions even considered when this legislation was being considered?

Whose idea was it to crucify struggling single parents even further?

If the Government is so desperate to find an extra $700 million per year, then why didn’t they have the courage to finally attack the rort that is negative gearing — a wealth creation system for wealthy people?

It is true that some people’s only motivation to do something will be through money.

But instead of taking money away from single parents that they use for their everyday living costs, why not offer incentives akin to the baby bonus? If governments can offer a baby bonus handout and provide extremely wealthy private schools with huge publicly funded handouts, then why can’t they come up with a policy that is more “carrot” and less “stick”; where single parents are encouraged to succeed, not threatened and deprived of the vital dollars they desperately need every day to raise their children.

Those who will scream the loudest about “lazy single parents” are the very same people who will still put their hand out for every subsidy at every opportunity. I have never seen or heard of anyone saying “No thanks, I don’t need the baby bonus” or a wealthy private school saying “No thanks, we don’t need taxpayers money to build new a rowing course or swimming pool” or “let the Government keep it for other more worthy causes.”

I expect this sort of policy from conservative governments as it is par for the course for them — but not from a progressive party.

A very wise person once told me that:
'Governments, in the race to be the ‘best economic manager’ make decisions from an economic rationalist point of view, and in doing so lose all humanity and compassion. Saying they are “good economic managers” is rhetoric governments of both persuasions bang on about all the time. The real challenge in being a good economic manager is implementing socially responsible policy that is passionate and well managed.'

This is not socially responsible policy.

It is cruel, heartless, regressive policy that will put many single parents further under the poverty line.

I want to see policy that will assist and inspire single parents to aspire to better opportunities.

This does not do that.

Of course, I am yet to hear Tony Abbott give a “commitment in blood” to wind back this policy.

It seems, as far as Mr Abbott is concerned, it is an outrage to tax multi-billion dollar mining oligarchs and put a price on big polluters spewing filthy toxic waste into our atmosphere, but it’s ok to reduce the income of some of the poorest, most struggling people in our society.

Hypocrisy reigns.

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