Peak Bodies Say Government’s ‘Witch-hunt’ on Single Parents is ‘Archaic’
15 May 2017 at 4:49 pm
Australia’s peak bodies for advocating for the rights of single mums have slammed the government’s latest amendment to the single parent payment.
In the 2017 budget, which aimed to “crackdown on welfare cheats”, the government announced from September 2018 single parents receiving welfare will need a third party to verify they are in fact single.
CEOs from Council of Single Mothers and their Children Victoria (CSMCV) and the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children (NCSMC) have condemned the move, calling it disrespectful, humiliating and archaic.
“It harps back to the 1970s when single mums used to be in fear of people coming into their homes to check the closets for men’s clothes,” CSMCV CEO Jenny Davidson said.
Terese Edwards, CEO of NCSMC, said Australia was slipping back to a “shame culture” where single mothers are operating under a cloud of suspicion, reminiscent of the 1970s.
“What women have reported to us of that era were there were raids, visits and checks,” Edwards said.
“I really detest what it says about women, unless you can get third party, we won’t trust or believe you.
“We recognise that our welfare system needs to be robust and transparent to protect those who would falter and fall without it. However, I have seen no evidence that the single parent payment is rorted.”
Edwards and Davidson said the third party verification system was fraught with problems, from hostile third parties “dobbing in” single mothers, social surveillance that breached the privacy of a single mother and her children, to unfounded assumptions that a new partner would take on the financial responsibilities of a woman’s children.
“The assumption here is that if a woman has a relationship that the new partner is then taking on the cost of raising her children. That is a big assumption,” Davidson said.
“Women have the right to start a relationship without asking a new partner to take on the costs of raising their children.”
Edwards said the third party verification system went against the principle of being innocent until proven guilty.
“I know one woman who had someone phone into Centrelink to say she wasn’t a single mum. Her payment was automatically suspended which immediately caused financial hardship,” Edwards said.
They said single mothers and their children were at high risk of poverty.
According to the ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2016 report, solo parents, 84 per cent of whom are single mothers, have the highest prevalence of poverty of all family types and one third of single parent families are living below the poverty line.
“One of the surveys we conducted found that a number of single mums had reported forgoing the essentials to get by; skipping meals and medical appointments,” Edwards said.
But one of the most concerning reports, Edwards said, was that due to severe financial insecurity, 22 per cent of women in abusive relationships had returned to the relationship for some financial reprieve.
Edwards and Davidson said the third party verification was the latest in a string of attacks on single mums, one of the most devastating, was the stringent rules Newstart dictated once the youngest offspring turned eight.
“It fails to recognise the unwaged labour that goes into running a home and keeping a family,” Edwards said.
Davidson said instead of vilifying single mums the government should focus on collecting child support payments.
In a submission to the Australian National Audit Office in November 2016, CSMCV said single mothers have faced and continue to face, long emotional struggles to have their former husband or partner share the costs of raising their children.
“Figures from 2012 report $1.2 billion in unpaid child support payments, largely owed by fathers. This does not include private arrangements, which represents $2 billion of the total $3.5 billion in child support. 100 per cent compliance is assumed in the payment of privately arranged child support, but anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests this is far from the case. For some single mothers, these privately agreed arrangements are a continuing source of distress and dispute,” the report said.
Davidson said: “What the governments should be doing is chasing them to follow up on their child support. That is what they should be cracking down on and there is no discussion on that whatsoever.”