Albanese warned not to be ‘mean-spirited’ with help for single parents
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is being urged to dump a divisive Labor policy that slashed incomes for thousands of single mothers, with leading feminist Anne Summers joining a push to reverse the move in full in the May 9 federal budget.
Summers, a top adviser to former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, warned it would be “mean-spirited” to make a small adjustment to the income support when evidence showed the policy from 2012 had hurt women who needed help.
Anne Summers says this budget is Labor’s first opportunity to “undo a mistake”.Credit: Jacky Ghossein
The comments escalate a last-ditch campaign to restore income support for single mothers until their youngest child turns 16, a decision that would cost about $1.1 billion over three years and would go further than a government plan revealed by this masthead yesterday to lift the cut-off age from eight to 12.
The move comes as four Labor backbenchers break ranks on social security policy by joining hundreds of advocates, including former Labor cabinet ministers Jenny Macklin and Brian Howe, who are calling for an increase in the JobSeeker rate that could cost $24 billion over four years.
The backbenchers – Michelle Ananda-Rajah, Louise Miller-Frost, Alicia Payne and Kate Thwaites – have added their names to an open letter from 380 signatories seeking a boost to the unemployment benefits after strong signs last week the government would not agree to the increase.
Independent senator David Pocock said the hundreds of signatures on the letter proved there was widespread support for greater help for the country’s most vulnerable people.
“There will always be pressure on the budget but this isn’t a can the government can kick down the road forever,” he said.
The open letter, written by Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie, will be released on Wednesday at a press conference with more than a dozen advocates aiming to maximise pressure on the government before a final decision.
Albanese and senior ministers are entering the final round of cabinet talks over the May 9 budget amid calls to boost Medicare, bolster the National Disability Insurance Scheme, commit to new defence projects, increase JobSeeker and lift income support for single mothers.
Some observers are calling the next week the “hunting season” in budget talks because some items will have to be dropped to make room for higher priorities, a scenario that galvanises ministers and lobby groups to fight to ensure their policies survive.
Michelle Ananda-Rajah is one of four Labor backbenchers breaking ranks on social security payments.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The increase for single mothers – at a cost of $1.1 billion over three years – would reverse a decision by the Gillard government in 2012 that tightened eligibility for the Parenting Payment (Single) by stopping the payments when the youngest child turned eight rather than 16.
“It’s a bad policy – you don’t improve it by tinkering with the cut-off age,” Summers said.
“I don’t see what possible rationalisation there can be for [a lower age] except a mean-spirited approach to cutting costs. Well, it might save a couple of hundred million dollars, but at what cost?
“It was a bad decision then, it’s still a bad decision. This is the first opportunity they have had to undo a mistake and they should do it.”
“This isn’t a can the government can kick down the road forever”: Senator David Pocock.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Summers, professor of domestic and family violence at the University of Technology, Sydney, conducted research last year that concluded 60 per cent of the 311,000 single mothers in Australia, based on data from 2016, had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a previous partner.
New research from Australian National University academics Kristen Sobeck and Robert Breunig finds there was limited success from the 2012 change. About one-third of single mothers became entirely reliant on private employment, but the remainder continued on income support, many on unemployment benefits and at lower incomes.
Single parents who transfer to JobSeeker lose more than $100 a week. The Parenting Payment Single is $949.30 per fortnight including a pension supplement, while JobSeeker is $745.20 per fortnight for single people with dependent children.
“Victims of domestic violence are confronting so many different challenges that have nothing to do with their employment prospects,” said Sobeck, a research fellow at the ANU’s Tax and Transfer Policy Institute.
“So it’s not rocket science that imposing stricter mutual obligations on victims of domestic violence is not going to propel them into the labour market.”
Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce chair Sam Mostyn, who was appointed by the government last year to advise on new policies, said the ANU results backed the case to restore the policy in place before the 2012 changes.
“The research confirms what the taskforce heard consistently throughout our consultations – that single mothers continue to be punished by a system that denies them the right to be good parents at the very time their children need their support,” she said.
“There is now evidence that the change to eligibility had no significant impact on increasing employment rates.
“In fact, many of the mothers have gone on to suffer a great degree of income stress.”
Grattan chief executive Danielle Wood is also on the taskforce. She supported increasing the cut-off age to 12, acknowledging the government faces budget constraints.
“The move from eight to 12 is a big and important change,” she said.
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