On January 1 this year the Gillard Government’s drastic cuts to single parent payments came into effect. The decision to move all single parents off parenting payments when their youngest child turns 8 has meant about 84,000 of Australia’s poorest families saw their benefits cut by as much as $130 a week.
These families will now have to make do on the Newstart allowance – a payment so low that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has described it as one of the lowest unemployment benefits in the developed world. Even the conservative Business Council of Australia says: “Entrenching people into poverty is not a pathway back into employment.”
More recently, Australia’s peak welfare body, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) slammed the government for not taking human rights seriously and for failing to respond to a damning joint letter from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and a working group on discrimination against women.
The UN said there were “serious concerns” that the change to parenting payments would “impede the enjoyment of human rights of those sole parents dependent on social security payments”.
On a human rights level, several conventions to which Australia is a signatory have been contravened, such as the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living, and the rights of the child and the elimination of discrimination against women.
Despite this condemnation, as well as rallies held nationally in February, Julia Gillard has remained unapologetic for extending the single parent payment cuts that John Howard first instigated in 2006.
Many stories of hardship and stress as a result of these drastic cuts are starting to emerge. Karen, a sole parent of two children has recently lost a startling $240 per fortnight from parenting support, despite the fact that she already works 4 days a week in the underpaid area of education support.
Karen says her current circumstances genuinely frighten her as she struggles to make ends meet. The relationship that Karen left was an abusive one, which brings into sharp focus the question of what victims of domestic violence will do. For many women who are in violent relationships, if their youngest child is over 8, the decision to leave has just been made much more difficult.
In addition to the single parenting payment cuts, the federal government also changed the criteria of the JET Child Care Fee Assistance making it even more difficult to study and get substantial child care assistance.
Rather than taking on big business and those who can afford to pay, the government is attacking sole parents and the unemployed. Many sole parents have said that the only places they can further cut costs is by buying lesser quality food or eliminating children’s activities. The impact of these cuts will reach far into the future and will only further entrench cyclical poverty.
The Gillard Government could have easily raised billions of dollars of revenue if it taxed the big mining companies, the banks and the casinos appropriately – let alone if these sectors were brought into public ownership.
The wider issue is that while many sole parents are locked out of formal work, they are engaged in long hours of unpaid domestic labour and child-rearing – tasks that are undervalued by the profit-driven capitalist system. Only a socialist society based on human need could overcome this and ensure a living wage and social inclusion for people engaged in all types of work.
With austerity measures sweeping the world, we cannot allow hard fought income support measures won by the working class over generations, to be snatched away by a capitalist government kowtowing to the demands of big business. We must say no to these attacks and campaign for decent welfare payments for all.
By Simone Howard