Welfare Program Dismisses Complexities of Single Motherhood
30 October 2018 at 4:35 pm
Established welfare-to-work systems don’t take into account the reality of single mothers’ lives and push them into unstable work, a report says.
The study, released by Good Shepherd on Monday, examined the lives of single mothers and the impact welfare-to-work had on them via 26 in-depth interviews.
Key findings from the report showed that overall, participants did not find the program helpful, and it created barriers despite their enthusiasm and motivation to find work and support their families.
Co-writer of the report, Sarah Squire, told Pro Bono News she felt the program ignored the complex reality of women’s lives, and the issues they faced such as poor mental and physical health, and the ramifications of family violence.
“The system they are navigating is very compliant heavy, and very punitive, and a lot of the time it’s just not able to take into account the complexity of their circumstances,” Squire said.
Despite many mothers interviewed possessing high motivation and a long-term plan for the future, Squire said if they did not tick boxes, they would be forced into casual, or unstable work.
“Many of them were studying, or had qualifications, but that just wasn’t recognised within the system,” she said.
As well as navigating a complex system, women interviewed also said their face-to-face experiences with Centrelink or Jobactive providers were stressful and traumatic.
“One woman reported having been yelled at, there was a case of sexual harassment, and many experienced microaggressions,” Squire said.
The report found the program was dismissive of the necessary level of unpaid care for their children they had to work around.
“The policy does not consider the barriers that single mothers face in obtaining employment, such as lack of child care and the availability of quality part-time roles,” the report said.
Squire said this finding demonstrated a broader societal issue, that unpaid work wasn’t recognised across society.
Hannah Gissane, project-coordinator at Equal Rights Alliance, said it was important to understand the value of unpaid work, especially when women were being labelled unemployed, or underemployed.
Gissane said policy needed a more gender responsive approach, something that Good Shepherd also advocated for.
“What that means, is understanding how many hours of unpaid work a week a single mother might be doing, and actually incorporating that into both policy and into the job services system so that there’s an understanding of that,” Gissane told Pro Bono News.
“There’s a huge amount of unpaid work that is unaccounted for, and we are just pretending it’s not happening.”
“Particularly in the community sector and across the community, people are saying that not only are these sorts of policy not achieving their aims but they’re actually making life more difficult.” Gissane said.
Squire said the CEO of Good Shepherd, Stella Avramopoulos, would present findings from the study at the jobactive inquiry and she encouraged community and advocacy groups to continue their support on the issue.
“We’d love to have some more support from other organisations that care about the impact that these policies have on women,” she said.
“Life is complex and we need to have a system that’s tailored to their individual needs, not a one size fits all approach.”