14 Jan 2013

Labor Will Regret Newstart Debacle

By Ben Eltham
Labor's Newstart bungles have done more than reveal Jenny Macklin's shortcomings. A grassroots campaign by single mums is a bad look in an election year, writes Ben Eltham
It was all, apparently, a mistake.

Centrelink, the Australian Government's vast benefits and pensions bureaucracy, had sent computer-generated letters to approximately 84,000 sole parents, telling them to destroy their Health Care Cards. Those affected are being moved off the Parenting Payment, the government pension for single parents raising dependent children over the age of eight, and on to Newstart, the current term for the dole.

It was a cruel blow for those already affected by this mean-spirited decision, which will see many lose around $130 a fortnight. That's a lot of money for a family struggling to keep its head above water — as many families with a sole parent undoubtedly are.

Fortunately for those affected, Centrelink's letter was wrong. Sole parents won't have to cut up their Health Care Cards, and they will remain eligible for the various concessions to which these cards entitle them, such as cheaper public transport, bulk-billing at their local GP, and discounted prescriptions at their pharmacy.

"I'm disappointed that it's occurred, particularly given the fact that we've made such effort to treat people properly and to explain their rights and their entitlements under the new arrangements," Human Services Minister Kim Carr told the ABC.

Mind you, the Government is apologising for the bungled letter — not for cutting single parents' benefits. Indeed, the embarrassment over the Health Care Cards bungle only highlights the difficulties the Government faces in explaining its decision to cut the benefits of sole parents in the first place.

Exactly why the Government has decided to slash the benefits of more than 80,000 single parents has never really been adequately articulated (the Opposition, by the way, voted for the measure too). The last time someone from the Government did attempt to was on New Year's Day, when Families Minister Jenny Macklin told journalists at a media doorstop that, "we have far too many children growing up in Australia where nobody is working" and that these changes would lead to more single parents going back to work.

Macklin pointed to changes made the Parenting Payment under John Howard in 2006, saying that, "as a result of the changes that were made back in 2006 we have seen more single parents going back to work." Labor opposed that measure at the time.

Even for Jenny Macklin, one of the Government's worst performers, this was something of a new low. When a Labor cabinet minister (the Families Minister, no less) justifies welfare cuts by referring to similar cuts made by John Howard's government, it's not an encouraging signal for defenders of Australia's increasingly threadbare social safety net.

The logic of the justification is difficult to follow. As the Australian Council of Social Services points out, sole parents are already required to look for work. "The official evaluation of the 2006 Welfare to Work changes found no evidence that dropping parents to lower payments increased their employment prospects," ACOSS writes in a briefing paper (pdf).

Later in the ill-fated press conference on 1 January, a journalist asked Macklin if she could live on the dole. "I could," she stated forthrightly, a remark that mysteriously appears on the official ministerial transcript as "(inaudible)". Her remarks enraged welfare advocates, and the airbrushed transcript was widely ridiculed in the media.

Macklin's gaffe was minor enough, but it shows she's out of touch. Newstart's current payment rate of $492 for a single person is manifestly inadequate. The payment rate of Newstart has not been indexed at the same rate as the pension since the mid-1990s.

It's true that the Government indexes the dole. But many costs have risen more steeply than general inflation — such as rents in capital cities, and energy bills. As a result, Newstart has steadily declined in comparison with the costs of everyday life. ACOSS summed up the view of most when it argued, in its submission to last year's Senate inquiry on the issue of welfare payment rates, that "maximum single rates of allowance payments are inadequate to meet basic living costs and prevent poverty and material deprivation".

The issues for sole parents being moved to the dole are more than simply financial. Newstart involves onerous responsibilities for recipients to look for work in order to keep receiving the payment. The endless round of meaningless Centrelink interviews and dole diary paperwork could even hinder sole parents looking to pursue an education or find flexible work appropriate to their family responsibilities.

Veronica Sheen, a researcher at Monash University, summarises the issues in this fine article in The Conversation. Sheen's research with sole parents — backed up by a large literature on the Australian labour market — established that "it was simply very difficult to sustain a 'good' job, generally a full-time job, while being the only parent".

She quotes a tertiary-educated single mum from one of her studies, who told her in an interview that "the thing that stands out for me is that regardless of how many skills you have and how many degrees you have, or how ambitious or motivated you are, you have to compromise your ambitions because you are restricted by your child caring and rearing role because that is your first priority".

The Government knows this, of course; Government members sat on the Senate inquiry on the adequacy of welfare payments, and heard plenty of damning evidence about the difficulties of making do on penurious government benefits. But the decision to punish sole parents was taken nonetheless, almost certainly because Labor was desperately seeking budget savings in order to meet its doomed pledge to deliver a surplus in 2013.

As we now know, the budget will almost certainly be in deficit come May anyway. Labor is now going to have to live with the consequences of its unnecessary austerity drive.

In fact, Labor's difficulties on this issue may be just beginning. Welfare groups and social advocates are gearing up for a sustained campaign on the Parenting Payment cuts. It's a campaign that will hurt Labor politically, and perhaps electorally as well. These benefit cuts directly attack a key Labor constituency, potentially damaging the ALP's support-base. They also undermine Julia Gillard's strategy of contrasting herself to Tony Abbott on women's issues.

These sorts of campaigns have a habit of snowballing in the community, as support builds at the grass-roots level. All in all, it's the sort of thing Labor strategists could do without in an election year.

As for parents who will now have to make do with $130 less a fortnight, their concerns are far more immediate. For their sake, let's hope the Government reverses this decision.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

K Brown
Posted Monday, January 14, 2013 - 15:23

The Centrelink letter to sole parents recently moved from Parenting Payment to Newstart telling them they were not entitled to a HealthCare Card really is a non-story. It was a blatantly obvious error that was quickly rectified. Welfare mums are well versed in the Centrelink benefits system and know that Newstart recipients and every other welfare beneficiary are entitled to a HealthCare Card. You can safely bet your bottom dollar no-one destroyed their card!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. paddybythesea
Posted Monday, January 14, 2013 - 16:18

Who knows, there might yet be a decent outcome from this whole sorry SNAFU.
Since the Govt appears to have ditched its foolish promise of a surplus.
They might just seize this opportunity to raise the newstart allowance to something approaching a sensible amount.
The oft quoted figure of a $50 per week increase would be a good start.
Plus, it would be a bloody good idea to peg newstart to the same index as pensions.

Alas, this Govt appears downright terrified, of standing up for anything vaguely resembling "progressive" policies. So I'm not holding my breath.

K Brown
Posted Monday, January 14, 2013 - 17:24

The Government’s policy that sole parents should be expected to seek work when their youngest child turns eight is reasonable. It has a high level of public support and bi-partisan political support. Also, as PM Gillard has said it has been utterly unfair that sole parents who qualified before 2006 continued to receive Parenting Payment after their youngest child turned eight whereas those qualifying after 2006 didn’t. It is therefore entirely logical policy that Parenting Payment cease at that time and unemployment benefits such as Newstart take effect as well as the full raft of other taxpayer support such as child care, rent assistance and family tax benefits.

This debate has arisen because the level of Newstart allowance is abysmally inadequate and other support payments such as rent assistance have not kept pace with costs. This is where the welfare policy debate should be focused - not on Parenting Payment.

Posted Monday, January 14, 2013 - 19:29

I have to agree with both of K Brown posts.

However I must add a Caution that I'm sure K Brown would agree with.

Its totally ridiculous for an/any Australian Government to hand out 5000 dollars so people will breed and Vote for them, then for the next lot of Lawyers to come along and punish the people for what they were encouraged to do.

In other words no point in punishing the kids because the parents left the Gate in the Pool Fence open.

Some people do not think past the end of their noses. Politicians are a good example and Responsible Government means Responsible. Not, "do as we say not as we do".

The other Article here:

14 Jan 2013

In Defence Of Compulsory Voting
By Alex White

goes some way to explaining why we have this current problem with Responsible Government being unable to be Responsible.

As paddybythesea put it:
Alas, this Govt appears downright terrified, of standing up for anything vaguely resembling “progressive” policies

It should read Governments appear downright terrified, of standing up for anything vaguely moraly responsible or justifiable.

There is no piont in closing the Gate after the Horse has bolted or the kid has drowned.

When it comes to Howard and his hand out, where was Labour when the Libs introduced it to Parliament. Where was Labour when Howard went to war so that he could be the next Hero, War Time, Morronic Australian Leader. Our high price of fuel is paying for all our wars, so where were our brain dead Voters. The same place they were the other 15 times over something like 143+ years, playing with their ego's.

We are a Nation od Wannabe's, we left where ever we left to come here and become the endangered species, the ruling classes. Paying Taxes and being sociable wasn't part of the Equation and most of the long term prisoners, POMS thought the Foreigners were going to do the work and pay the Taxes so that we could live it up and do all the Bonking.
Guess what?
Thought Bubbles!
Share Market Bubbles
Housing Bubbles
Bubble Bubbles
Government Spending funded Bubbles to keep the Capitalist Democracy sow called Super Star Marilyn Monroe looking slim and in a ready supply of Panty Girdles to achieve that slime look. Private Enterprise, very slim until you look closely and see the Pimples.

And then there are greedy, egotistical grubs who thought they could stick a Feather into the groung and grow a Peacock, so that they could slaughter it for Profit with Government Funded Utensils and then leave the Gov. to clean up the MESS.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. paul walter
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 03:22

K Brown sounds as incensed as I am. Am glad particularly that final, Ralph Nickleby-level cruel stunt, the demand for scissoring of the cards wasn't forgotten, I was going to comment.
I've grown up as a labor person yet throw up on this, as with Macklin's first capitulation, involving the continuation of the Aboriginal Intervention.

"Minister, what do you do?"

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 12:29

"The Government’s policy that sole parents should be expected to seek work when their youngest child turns eight is reasonable. It has a high level of public support and bi-partisan political support."

I'm interested to know what is it about a child's development that makes it less of a priority to have a parent around from 8-17 than it is infant-8? For me the transition from pre-teens through to adulthood is a prime time for a parent to be available to children, as important as the previous period. We want more adults to sustain population, and we prefer those adults to be healthy, both physically and socially. That's one of the few, non-vote-buying reasons we donate to families in general, in covering part of the costs, because we all benefit from it. Unfortunately we booted the best & cheapest child-rearers out of the picture long ago - grand-parents/grand-uncles/grand-aunts etc. Our society is so braindead when it comes to the nuclear family's ongoing failures as a social engineering model.

That it has popular and bi-partisan support says little, plenty of government actions throughout history have been popular and had bi-partisan support, only to find later they were morally hollow affairs from the outset. I am more concerned with Australian corporate welfare, and behaviour in developing nations, than I am single mothers or fathers giving their children much needed guidance, when their children needs it, not when the parents work schedule allows it. Child development does not end at 8, and we have no signs of compensation for schools to pick up the slack.

Furthermore, wasn't the economic wisdom of the 20th century's success and failures, that in times of international economic turmoil, getting money into as many hands as possible was desirable, without relying on the corporate sector to do so, because of said international economic turmoil. Is it that Australians feel we are different, or an exception?

Instead our governments, state and federal are removing much in the way of resources and cash from those most in need, whether it is pensioners, and the massive health access cuts, reduced freedom of travel, or single parents having to slash over $5000 from the relatively small budget as it is, or indirect increases in cost/removal from access in the budget cuts (or failure to keep up with costs) of much needed public services.

david n
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 13:48

The work ethic is insane. it is the reason why we cannot stop wrecking the climate and ourselves in the process. We're not allowed to stop. So instead of making do with less production and consumption and waste, we carry on and the problem will resolve by having less people. Or given we're to apply such a blunt instrument, perhaps no people.

david n
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 13:48

The work ethic is insane. it is the reason why we cannot stop wrecking the climate and ourselves in the process. We're not allowed to stop. So instead of making do with less production and consumption and waste, we carry on and the problem will resolve by having less people. Or given we're to apply such a blunt instrument, perhaps no people.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 13:54


Sorry, but I think single parents should be back at work - or in work for the first time - long before their youngest child turns eight.

I used to be a single parent, I know how tough it is. I also know that most single parents, if they need welfare at all, spend as little time on it as possible while they re-organise their lives after a relationship breakdown. It's the small percentage - less than 10% of single parents, according to ACOSS - who have never worked because they became teenage mums who are getting all the sympathy right now. The same group who not so long ago were vilified by the media as bludgers having babies to get money. You can't have it both ways.

Let's look at that sole parent payment and its history. The Whitlam government intrroduced a benefit for single parents in 1974, a year before no-fault divorce was introduced. Whitlam and his government knew that finally allowing women to leave difficult or violent relationships would mean many would need financial help. Unfortunately with the new payment came some young women who abused it by deciding having a few kids was a good way to get money.

Back in 1974 most women still took a few years off work to raise their children or were full-time stay at home mums. That was reflected in the generous nature of the original payment which allowed parents to stay on it until their youngest turned sixteen. These days things have changed. Both partners now work and women work until the last weeks (sometimes days) of a pregnancy. Often they will take only six weeks of maternity leave before returning to work. Only the well-off - or single parents on welfare - can afford to spend years out of the work-force raising their families.

So what's wrong with expecting a single parent, male or female, to go to work once the youngest child is eight? Eight years is more than enough time to finish a high school education, get a TAFE certificate or diploma or complete a uni degree. It's more than enough time to find part-time work that could lead to full-time employment. Why are single parents considered so precious that they and they alone must be paid to sit around at home until their youngest child is twelve or sixteen? Spare me the crap about a child needing a parent 'around'. How many working parents are 'around' for their kids these days? Very few. It's the norm for the kids of two working parents to spend their days in daycare, or at school and in before and after school care.

And why eight years of age? Easy. By that age a child can do all the things that an adult might have to help a younger child do. They can dress themselves, bathe themselves, help make meals. The hectic routines that fill the early mornings and early evenings of working parents with very young children are over. Whatever needs to be done can be done by one adult with help from a child. I know, because I've been there.

So spare me the crocodile tears over the pilght of single parents. Instead worry about the kids who have been growing up in homes where mum has never worked, refuses to work or get an education and instead is happy to live on welfare. These kids are doomed to the same sort of useless, aimless life unless someone is brave enough to put a time limit on benefits to single parents.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 14:42

Ditto dlyons
As a single Mum I was grateful for the 'allowance' when i needed it in the early 80s as it was the only way to escape a failed marriage. Six months later I was back at work and my kids have thrived and become wonderful parents themselves.
Funny isn't it, though. A number of my contemporaries - women in their late 50s and early 60s who are highly qualified cannot get work due to 'ageism'- despite being highly capable, competent and experienced, and they are now 'trapped' on a 'Newstart' allowance. Every one would dearly love a job, or to even have the opportunity to work for their pittance as long as it was in meaningful work, not just stacking supermarket shelves which is all that seems to be available.
I have no problem with single Mum's being told to go and look for work, or to study, once their kids are 8. They need to stop using their kids as an excuse and get out and show them how real women can live and work.
There needs to be a complete rethink of how to deal with the issue of welfare- to meet the needs of people who are in financial dire straits.
The assumption that people on Newstart are all dole bludgers and do not want to work would be a good place to start,

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 16:00

D Lyons: "Spare me the crap about a child needing a parent ‘around’. How many working parents are ‘around’ for their kids these days? Very few."

Sorry what sort of back of the corn flakes packet logic is that? A child does not need a parent around because these days very few working parents are around. It does not prove a child does not need a parent around because few are. Huh?
BTW good article Ben. Even Ben who is a vigorous defender of the Government's policies is at a loss with this one. As he says it is an attack on not only a core constituency but also an attack on all Labor voters in general. Especially when recent surveys show job vacancies are in decline. I in all conscience can not vote Labor at the next election. Macklin's performance was absurd. And we can see the total decline in Labor values in that not one Labor minister or parliamentary secretary has resigned in protest at this contemptible attack on the poor.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 16:39

I am not a friend of Parenting Payments or welfare payments in general, and have made that abundantly clear in earlier discussions.

However, what I would like to see is free before and after school care.
I help a friend with her tax return. She runs her own business, but is also entitled to a part parenting payment which she will now lose(when her children turn 10 and 8 respectively) She can earn more in her business if she puts in the time but has no one to look after her 2 children before and after school; thus does not have that extra time for business.

I know from my own granddaughter that before and after school care is expensive (so I help out - for the love of it).
If schools would have an interactive program involving parents and grand-parents as volunteers this dilemma could be solved.
I would be the first one to put up my hand for my weekly stint looking after young kids at their school before/after school hours.
You don't need teacher qualifications for that, just empathy and common sense.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 16:45

Why assume that single mothers are a 'core constituiency' for Labor? Do you know many single mums on benefits? I do. I live in an area where there are many of them. Most of them are politically unaware, they don't know if their MPs are Labor, Liberal, Ntional Party or something else. Sometimes they don't know who they are at all and they don't care. when a elcction comes they have little understanding of what it's about. And these people are supposed to be a 'core constituency'?

I understand what single parents go through trying to find work and trying to balance work and family life. Your comments show you don't get the point. Working parents - single or partnered - manage to spend time with their kids but not as much as they would like. But single parents on benefits are paid to stay at home for years. And even then, it's only a small group which was 'grandfathered by the Howard government's changes. The new system is just putting everyone on the same level. You might think it's harsh, I can see the reason for it. Why should this group - mostly poorly educated because they left school too young - be favoured? It is far better that they are encouraged to finish their education and find work. Better for them in the long run and better for their kids.

Don't vote Labor as a protest if that's what you see as a solution. But remember, Tony Abbott has already promised to do away with Newstart completely for the under 30s. Imagine what that will do to single mums who have no education and no skills to fall back on.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 17:16

Who up there wondered at encouraging young females to have more children, and gave them $5000 to do so, then later decided, as part of a ridiculous pledge by a total d@*khead Treasurer, to have a surplus, Hell or high water, because the Evil God, "Markets", said so, to take the money back from them, and more, via an Administrative Move.
Yes, with a PM who is one of those old fashioned people who believe with all their hearts? and souls? that only working for your entire life for some boss who robs you blind will make you a human being, Minister Macklin, who perhaps has Nazi inclinations, certainly a belief that She is Boss of All Poor and Indigenous, takes her lead from her Boss, and just has to make life as miserable as possible for all those who do not get $5000 a week for doing an absolutely pitiful job of being a Government Minister in a decent Government.
I can see no way that most of those who get $5000 a week and a lots more deserve what they get for being, generally, human mongrels. My vote for a decent Tax System that takes big bikkies from the top 20% and gives it in one form or another to the bottom 20%.
As to whether the poor deserve a living income, and it would seem KBrown and lot of others do not, perhaps we should do something about having a more balanced economic system, where the Rich do not get richer every day with a great deal of Government assistance (not called NewStart!, for some reason not even called subsidies, which they are) and the poor get poorer, with a great deal of Government 'assistance' again. Seems these days all shades of Governments with the possible exception of the Greens, have to be seen to be meaner and meaner to the poor and helpless, and quote one John Winston Howard (who to my way of thinking should be in prison for Crimes Against Humanity) as their reason/guidance for their ignorance, stupidity and utter meanness. What the Hell have we come to as a Nation?
Lucky I am that I can vote for the Greens at the next election, because I could never, ever vote for either the LibNats or Labor, because they are no longer parties that any one with a conscience could vote for. But unfortunately, there are not a lot of those left in Australia. By our 'leaders' we have been led to a state of being a Nation of nasties. never happy unless we are doing someone else harm, and feeling good about it.
Poor Fellow, My Country.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 17:54

Well, I am a post 2006 single mum moving to newstart next month. And I have three kids at primary school. I live in a semi rural area and there are no neighbours. I do not want my kids coming home to an empty house to fight, eat my cupboards out or accidentally kill themselves somehow for lack of supervision. Similarly I don't want them to have to travel 40 minutes with two changes of bus to the nearest after school care.

I happen to be in my last year of study so am hoping for a good job that will allow some flexibility next year and perhaps a move closer to more facilities. But to those who say eight years old is ok to go home to an empty house, I strongly disagree. By herself, my 8 yr old would be fine, but put two slightly older brothers in the mix and it's a recipe for disaster!

I think that secondary students, from 12/13 yrs are fine to fend for themselves, are aware enough to know when there is danger and able to manage their reactions to siblings so no disaster occurs. But even then, I know lots of teens whose parents work who spend countless hours causing neighbourhood trouble.

Parental supervision is civic good that we simply don't value anymore.

The other aspect is that community volunteering is being depleted of skilled and available people, especially for our public schools, aged visiting and family support.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 21:05

K Brown sounds like a Labor flak.

Many of us are familiar with Centrelink's systems. And have no doubt that we can be inconvenienced and punished through no fault of ours. Something like 40% of errors are made by Centrelink staff not the clients (who include those with mental health problems, literacy issues and so on).

As to the notion that our purpose in life is to work for some boss who cares nothing for us instead of caring for those we love - well, that sounds like a politicians life - and a bloody awful one.

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 21:46

Jackal01 wrote
Its totally ridiculous for an/any Australian Government to hand out 5000 dollars so people will breed and Vote for them, then for the next lot of Lawyers to come along and punish the people for what they were encouraged to do.

In other words no point in punishing the kids because the parents left the Gate in the Pool Fence open.

Some people do not think past the end of their noses. Politicians are a good example and Responsible Government means Responsible. Not, “do as we say not as we do”.

I think that is very poignant, interesting also is that fact that the coalition agreed to the policy so HOW is it an election issue?

Hopefully single mothers won't shoot them self in the foot over this and vote for someone who is not going to change anything for their benefit,
and just where are these jobs they are supposed to get?

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 22:32

Exactly, Stripling,
the jobs with hours that suit single parents with young kids are not in my area, if they exist anywhere, that's for sure.

K Brown
Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 00:17

Evan, Vitalki, et al
I am not sure what a Labor "flak" is Evan but I assure you that my political views are that the Labor Party are a bunch of idiots and the Coalition a bunch of clowns. Because I hold a philosophical view that sole parents should not be entitled to Parenting Payment once their youngest child turns eight does not align me with any political party and it is logically a non-sequitur to accuse me of such when it is bi-partisan policy! I believe encouraging personal responsibility, work ethic and self-help in welfare recipients is a philisophically sound position.

My mother worked full-time in the 1950's/60's as a sole parent deserted wife without Child Support, welfare benefits or even extended family support to raise my brother and me from the age of three, so don't try to tell me how hard life can be for single mums. I have lived it. It isn't easy but it can be done and to do so is socially and morally fortifiying for the family unit. Our family's salvation was affordable public housing and it is targeted assitance like this that I believe the Government needs to focus on rather than broadbrush increases in allowances.

Jenny Macklin said sole parents who had been moved to Newstart since 2006 had a higher work participation rate. Unfortunately the reporter who interviewed her in the now infamous footage didn't explore this fact prefering instead to ask the Minister the boringly predictable trite "gotcha" question "Could you live on the Newstart Allowance?" I have recently heard that the workforce participation of Australia's sole parents is significantly less than the OECD average. These facts are very interesting and I am astounded that the MSM or NM have totally ignored them. So much for the idea that our strugling media may be rescued by "data journalism"!

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 01:14

For those who know crap all about Centrelink payments, the New Start Allowance is a dud and is an unsupportive benefit that does not support people to get back into the workforce but makes them dance around a heap of bureaucratic rules and procedures - if you missed that part of Ben's article go back and read it again.

For those of you too privileged to know these things. the issue is not about sole parents not wanting to work - THEY WANT TO WORK!!! Most of them know it's in the best interest of their children. OK so you might know one who doesn't want to work - can I inform you that he or she is very definitely part of a very small minority and not someone on whom you want to base a whole social policy affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

The problem with putting sole parents on to NSA is that they lose all the support they were getting from the Parenting Payment to get them studying or working. Most sole parents WANT to work people!! Moving them on to NSA has made it harder for them to do this. Many sole parents live in outer suburbs of capital cities or in rural areas, where there is little employment. Travel is a problem. Child care is difficult to find. Putting them on to NSA means they have an income test thresh hold of $62 per fortnight before their benefit cuts out at the rate of 50c in the $ - a much lower thresh hold than PPS. So many WORKING sole parents are now hundreds of dollars worse off as they lose most of or all of their benefit. If they are in the middle of studying or getting a small business off the ground, many of them can't keep going, they will have to give up. Also many of the support schemes available to PPS recipients are not available to NSA recipients - I'm talking about support to get back into work or study.

This move by the government was unnecessary and is causing huge hardship. The attitude of many of the people commenting here illustrates what Labor is made up of now - the new middle class of people who have no empathy for vulnerable groups in society and no social conscience, and who have embraced the economic rationalism of Howard and Thatcher. This is what has gone wrong with Labor. I am involved in a number of online networking sites for sole mums and I can tell you they are talking about campaigning to support the Greens in the hope of strengthening their balance of power so as to have this appalling policy reversed.

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 12:45

Veronica Sheen

The opinion piece in today's Age -

is an extraordinary reprise of 1950s attitudes towards single parents and their children - attitudes that begot the horrific stories we have heard in recent years of young mothers of that era, forced to give up their babies often without their consent. Sole parent payments instituted in the 1970s were in part designed to eliminate such abuses in accordance with more humane and enlightened social mores.

The vast majority of single parent families are created through divorce/separation with teenage motherhood a relatively rare phenomenon. The vast majority take workforce participation very seriously but may be hindered by lack of suitable opportunities.

Thanks to Ben for mentioning my research. VS

This user is a New Matilda supporter. GarryB
Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 14:27

The article seems to ignore the fact that some men are single parents, too. And the expectations for them may well be somewhat different. Many of them have jobs when their marriage ends, divorce or partner dies etc. and continue in them. They are not expected to stay at home all day while their kids are at school.
Some correspondents above ask why eight? That's when kids are settled in at school and so the single parent is freed up for substantial blocks of time during the school term.
In my experience as a single parent and of other single parents most would go crazy hanging about all day. We preferred to sustain jobs and still managed to raise a family without being funded by other's hard earned taxes.
It is a perfectly reasonable expectation that a single parent of a child or children of eight or over should seek work and not rely on the welfare state. There are facilities for those times when their parent may not be available because of their employment.

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 15:38

It is a sad fact that most of those thinking that the best way to help people is to take away any subsistence assistance, seem to be Right Wing thinkers. Tories.
I read that the idea for all this actually came from the Tories in Britain, the David Cameron camp, via a Far Right adviser to Gillard she bought from the Tony Blair camp. Really is tweedledum/tweedledee politics in Britain, and we are well and truly now in the same boat. I see also that Gillard is confirming that she is going to make Laws in Australia that empower the Churches to continue to discriminate against anyone who does not conform to their strict Religious doctrines, even as they accept billions of dollars from the Public purse. One has to wonder just how many votes she expects to get from this. Or is this to keep some of her Far Right Wing backers in the Labor ranks in her camp? Keep The Krudd away! She does seem to be surrounded by numbers of Religious Nutters as Ministers. I guess that there is no chance that we will see balance in giving billions to rich private Church schools against starving Public schools for money and infrastructure. Gillard and her Far Right Religious mates just LURVE this one. Or again, no chance of getting rid of all those Religious Propagandists getting paid from the Public Purse to harass the brains of our youth at Public schools, fill them with total garbage, at the behest of all those Religious Nutters that surround Gillard. They must be quite happy that they control such a mentally, ethically and morally bankrupt PM. Where Christianity actually comes into this I do not see. Some Christian leaders have made this point, but not enough, and not loudly enough.
I hear this morning that Federal Labor has again actually come up in the Polls, at the expense of the Greens and the Co-alition. Does this mean that TA is becoming more and more un-electable, the more we understand about him and his beliefs, or that more and more people are starting to forget already just how bad for Australia Gillard is. Maybe Gillard is developing a bit of a teflon coating herself. Maybe she has pulled a mighty bluff. Maybe she has changed a lot of her Spin Merchants.

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 16:49

I don't know whether they will. Assuming what the author assumes which is those on welfare tend to be Labor supporters who will they shift their vote to, assuming that this will cause them to.

Liberal? Nope, they suggested the same thing and will probably suggest worse if Abbott does get in.

Greens? Maybe but since they have no House of Reps seats except for Brandt those votes are likely to be redistributed to Labor anyway.

What is does show that, again, in terms of actual policy, there is little to show in terms of a difference between Labor and Liberal. If this system is to survive we desperately need a viable third party (and no the Greens are not it, they are too closely associated with the environment).

They are in general agreement with arguments over relatively trivial issues occasionally breaking out to make it look like we are having a geniune debate.

BTW read that John Hirst article Veronica refers to earlier, that is just about the worst "opinion" piece ever to appear in The Age and The Age ought to be ashamed to publish such crap.

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 18:14

The Age article is outrageous, but hardly not to be expected (?).

GaryB, the vast majority of single parents (I believe around 90 percent, but will stand corrected) are women. That is not to minimise the job being done by the many male single parents, it's simply a fact.

As you say, most single parents I know would hate to sit home all day and watch daytime tv and entertain potential paedophiles/teenophiles as The Age suggests. Most either study, do volunteer work in the community or school, or work casually or part time. They are already doing this, which benefits the whole of society. Study and voluntary work assists in achieving more highly paid full time work when their kids are in their teens. Unfortunately, the casual work of food service or cleaning (the norm for single parents in my area) is insecure, irregular and provides few skills that translate to career advancing opportunities in their future.

The reality is that every single parent is in different circumstances but all are being treated uniformly, and tarred with the same brush. Individualism seems highly prized as long as it doesn't have to be applied to the vulnerable or people in minority groups.

Posted Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 21:24

Stripling, good points. But my money so far goes to K Brown and jilcar.

For their wise words.

Dazza however has got his finger on the pulse and their aint one, a pulse that is. The Nations Moral fortitude is dead if we ever had one.
Good argument Dazza, keep the B's Honest.

Howard handed out 5000 and Labour didn't want to loose out on the publicity and said nothing. Now they try and Punish for something they encouraged. Clean up your mess politicians, your Lawyers you sound like Lawyers act like Lawyers.

Live the Single Parents alone until we have some sound leadership on this topic and we as a Nation have had a good long discussion on this issue. we talked about the GFC, we can talk about this.

But until somebody finds some jobs for all (Men and women)instead of just moving about the deck chairs on the Titanic, whats the point to all this noise.

Just like K Brown I believe, but leadership or lack of on this came and must come from above, they broke it let them fix it and not by punishing those who fell for the cheap cash.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. wollsue
Posted Friday, January 18, 2013 - 05:02

As one of the affected single parents I'm thoroughly sick of being used as a political football and being lumped in with "lazy dole bludgers" (who are surely a tiny minority).

Yes I thought I knew the rules, K Brown, but Centrelink rules are far more complex than you think - even Centrelink staff often give wrong information. I was very distressed at receiving a letter saying my current payment and PCC would cease, with no corresponding letter to say what would replace it. You're right I didn't cut up my card but I did avoid using it for essential prescriptions until the situation was clarified - which has taken more than 2 weeks.

Jilcar is spot on about "the new middle class of people who have no empathy for vulnerable groups in society and no social conscience". The only point I would add is that not all work is PAID! I've more than repaid any supposed debt I owe to "other taxpayers" (as if I was never a taxpayer myself) through many thousands of hours of valuable volunteer work. This work was undoubtedly of more benefit to society, myself and my children than any amount of time spent jostling with other single mums to apply for the handful of low paid, insecure "family-friendly" jobs. Now I'm in the situation where I can't even afford a haircut or decent clothes to attend job interviews, let alone save up for large expenses such as dental, optical and vehicle repair. No wonder depression is so prevalent amongst single parents.

Posted Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 10:13

Have just been shifted onto Newstart, so am part of this little circus.

Several things are happening here, sometimes it can be the old "comparing apples and oranges" thing, where some elements are actually not suitable to compare and other times I can see a huge set of biases and prejudices of richer groups in society making value judgements on other parts of society.

The other old saying of walking a mile in another person's (or more aptly "parent's") moccasins before making judgements on what they should do within their life situation also suits the discussion, for if you do not know another's life circumstances, challenges and needs you are ill-prepared for forming suitable advice, opinions or policies to support and improve their situation (and thus your society's overall condition).

I get sick to death of being shoved into a particular social demographic of the stereotyped dole bludger with their hand-out, living with laziness off other people's money like the backside of Australian society! It is no wonder these policies have wide support if all other Australians hold this same prejudice and lack an ability to stand aside from their biases and look objectively at a group - which in all reality is a broad group, not homogenous and not at all realistically able to be aggregated by their personal characteristics.

I would like to know the REAL percentage of people receiving welfare that are actually lazy and intentionally choose to not work, avoiding work. We ALL get treated like we are ALL this way. This is a value statement/bias that comes from and suits certain social strata and lifestyle values...especially our politicians, the middle-classes that they try to please and the media that preaches on their behalf.

The stereotype therefore is very powerful. A scientist cannot do this as he/she must use objective information and research, avoiding observer bias. A social welfare worker also is supposed to place their own values aside and work with the people and community from the conditions they actually have as REAL social, emotional, psychological and political conditions. The rest of society can sit "safely" (often smugly) in their values and beliefs, not examine them for how well-suited they fit the issue and make their judgements from this position - which is not the best one for making social policy!! Politicians who are mostly economists and lawyers are not trained in or have well-developed skills in this area - of whom Jenny Macklin continually gives us plenty of examples (however is still a key decision maker and still has position/influence!!).

Most of us want to work. I want to work, however I am studying at uni and aiming for Honors, so I treat my study as my serious "work". I also have kids with disabilities and this gives my ability to find work an extra challenge. When I was working, which only ended in about October 2012, on Newstart I would've now had much less money in my budget - due to the wage affecting NSA differently (50cents in the dollar). If I receive an academic scholarship this year (fingers crossed!!) - I'll end up with about half of it!! This makes no sense to me!

In terms of work, employment adverts are in decline, if you are not in a city this is even worse - transport and child care are also worse in terms of access, flexibility. The governments says employment has risen (I think?) but when you examine the stats more closely, I'm pretty sure that it is the casual and part-time work that has increased. Now any parent on part-time work knows you will need income support!! However now that we are on NSA that casual or part-time income is worth less in terms of meeting our life, family and living costs/needs etc. Or to have several part-time/casual jobs to support yourself OFF welfare. How suitable is this for a single parent? Or especially for her family? How much pressure do politicians and the wider society want to put on a demographic that is already documented to be a greatly disadvantaged and stressed group? Is this just and right? I think not.

In terms of doing whatever it takes to find work and support yourself, people from the upper strata of society would call on family and friends, they have more resources, more status, more education, more networks that enable them to achieve this successfully and without too much grief. Does a person whose entire social network and family are poor, without resources, education etc have this same social, economic condition? NO.

Now I am just trying to bunker-down and see where I can save money. Cheap housing is now becoming a high-demand commodity - only 3 houses in my entire town were cheaper than my house (whose rent just went UP $20 a fortnight too!! Also just received letters from both gas and electricity that their rates are going up). Would this be an issue for our politicians to address - aren't these things their responsibility - why not make a society where it is realistic for me to PAY for my needs because costs are reachable? Petrol (Also very expensive - near $1.50 p/Lt) - drive the car less, public transport more - but my area has limited public transport and prices are all going up there too! Would this be something my politicians have helped (and failed) influence too? Maybe I can just cut all after-school activities for my kids? So in reality their lives end up no better than mine? No developing skills, friendships, work experience/skills? I HAVE doubled the size of my veggie garden but of course this increases my water bill!!

No I didn't cut up my concessions card because yes I thought it would be an error. But those of you who say "surely people would know this" when you are on Centrelink it is a very domineering nasty institution that sends nasty threatening letters and your money can be cut off at any time leaving my without resources to raise my family - you live on the edge of fear and being evicted...only a person on Centrelink will understand this.

I just expect this sort of thing now - this society is no longer the society for the Aussie battler, the looking after your mates, the lucky country or the land of opportunity - it is a land where discrimination and prejudices rule the land between the snobbery of the politicians, their main voter target group and the media which is the glue that binds it altogether. This country refuses to listen or address the needs of huge social groups that are simply not in a position to be heard and taken seriously. We need to get some of the economists and lawyers OUT of positions that influence social policy and place in those positions the people who have expertise, training and experience in these areas - the social worker, the community development worker, the health worker, the counselor and psychologists and having their expertise respected and affecting our society.

Posted Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 10:14

sorry - that post got very long! I must be missing writing uni essays!!

Posted Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 13:23

I'm a dolebludger who over the years has worked the system with no regret, I think the work ethic is killing the planet and I would like to know what K Brown's occupation is. I am coincidently interested in policy development, in many of our systems we have persisted with a crime and punishment model. The system is generous by world standards and the response to this is to punish and pressure sometimes vunerable people. Basically the incentive mix needs to be more finely calibrated. If you bounce off the system anyway its hard to take the next step if the financial incentive is not there. The last decade has seen the oppression bit privatised - I got cut off twice - once when nursing my dying father and second when travelling to oversee his funeral. Welfare payments have also been left behind when you consider rent levels - so it has become pretty tough - I've just started on another 3 years of Austudy - if you have a few more brain cells you are treated differently.

The incentive mix is still a little bit off - if you get casual work you gain less than $10 an hour, if you add in costs associated with work it can be less. What I would propose is a little radical, a lil neo liberal. Have half the allowance given as a loan, half in exchange for volunteer work. When you get a windfall 10% can go to paying it back, when you work you can pay it off like hecs ( I would move the thresholds up for hecs, people are poor for a long time when having kids then become wealthly later in life). This policy is in one way a loan that creates a degree of incentive, where the govt can get some of it back and in the other volunteer hours are swapped at a certain point for work hours which calibrates the incentive mix further. In this system you need less than half the bureaucracy and you get a massive productivity/social welfare increase, its not easy to organise volunteers but I think the not for profit sector is up for it and the arts should also be a focus - and we don't need to demonise people anymore. There will be people who choose to live on welfare but they will be engaged with society more through volunteer work and if serious financial opportunity arises they will be more empowered to take a chance given that stigma and access to welfare will be streamlined. Also a person on longterm welfare has a reasonable chance of recieving an inheritance or other windfall.

Its a big part of the budget, if they did this they would save alot of money over the decades and take the harshness out the system, take the edge off of life in this country. The psychological pressure, the suicide rate, the drive to consume its not serving us well.

K Brown
Posted Monday, January 21, 2013 - 18:22

Our welfare system is seriously cocked up when a benefit like Parenting Payment encourages people to leave full-time work for welfare as Courier-Mail correspondent Margaret Wenham boasts in this recent article in "The Punch"http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/I-raised-there-men-on-that-scrapped-.... I wish I had access to welfare support to complete post-graduate studies when my wife and I were raising our family.

Jenny Macklin has stated that single parents who have been on this new regime since 2006 have a higher workforce participation rate. Surely this is a good thing and a good reason, in addition to fairness, to put all sole parents on a common entitlement. Apparently OECD studies also show that Australian sole parents have poor workforce participation rates compared to other OECD countries but the Australian media simply ignore this data and prefer to engage in trite "gotcha" questions for our politicians.

Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 19:22

KB - what a pity for our society when workplace participation is the benchmark of desirable outcomes - when in fact single parents already are working part-time, needing income support and still living barely above the poverty line, still barely able to raise their children to an affluent society's social participation standards...it is the wrong measure/gauge for the success of assisting people off welfare into independence...we ARE working and doing constructive activity for our families and communities...the upper class assumption that work=financial independence is incorrect/inaccurate. Casual/PT work in on the rise and not realistic to expect 1 person can support her entire family on it AND meet her children's needs AND keep it together emotionally, psychologically and her physical/social health in a favourable state.

Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 20:18

Ladies and Gentleman.

Wake up! There is no such thing as a Dole Bludger. There are only people out there who have given up because they know that 10% of the Nation has to be and always will be unemployed.

It was and still is Liberal Party Policy.

Remember John Hewson and his Tears for the 999000 unemployed, but when questioned he said that they would have 10% unemployment.

10% of what 24 million people.

Stop talking rot.

business people will not allow 0 unemployment, the 1970 will not return they have made sure of that.

The Dole Bludger is a Hoax, a lie, that even fightmumma seems to believe, that is the problem. Someone will always be unemployed, must be unemployerd because business needs it, wants it. 0 unemployment robs the bosses of power.

The question should be, can we and or the planet aford more breeding for the sake of an income, for the sake of votes, for the sake of consumption, for the sake of Ego.

We are a Nation of Morrons if we still believe in Dole Bludgers.

if you have 3 Lollies and 6 kids what do you do, what do you do with 9 kids and 3 lollies, smarten up. The debate itself is Crap.

Howard handed out 5000 dollars to buy votes and half of those were scalpel births, 30 000 dollar operations. 30+5 = 35000 dollars ea. for a lot of those kids. That was treason, misuse of Tax Funds.

It was a bludge.

Its the Governments you fools.

Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 20:20

A record number of 36 year old women are commiting suicide, why?

Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 20:28

Don't you be sorry fightmumma.

Great Post, go and get the morrons girl.

If you don't want population growth the stop breeding.

But don't go around buying votes and ecourage people to breed and then punish them later, this sucks.

Someone grab Howard and snot him, the man was a Parasite and someone voted for that Pig. Shame on the Nation.

We were never a nice, egalitarian Nation, we are only just noticing the lies we told ourselves.