ParentsNext Under Fire for Punitive Approach to Single Mothers
11 February 2019 at 4:09 pm
A government pre-employment program that forces single mothers on welfare to attend appointments and complete activities or risk having their payments cut is inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations, community groups say.
A Senate inquiry into ParentsNext, a compulsory program for selected parents on the Parenting Payment with children under six-years-old, has heard evidence the scheme is causing stress and harm for many women, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers.
A joint submission from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (NFVPLS) Forum, SNAICC – National Voice for our Children (SNAICC), and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), said the government should abandon the “flawed and punitive” program and redirect funding to voluntary measures that support parents and workforce participation.
A mother told she won’t be ‘exempt’ from whatever arbitrary activity a #parentsnext provider gives her until the day she gives birth, then told she will have to participate when the baby is 3 mths old. Both are incorrect as per the guidelines. Who is monitoring these bullies? pic.twitter.com/8cnyDSvF9i
— Ella Buckland (@ellaNbuckland) February 4, 2019
Describing ParentsNext as “inconsistent with a number of Australia’s international human rights obligations”, it warned the program was likely to harm children and push some women into insecure work.
Antoinette Braybrook, convener of the NFVPLS Forum, said the program was setting Indigenous women up to fail, and would cause the most pain for mothers escaping family violence or dealing with homelessness.
“Rather than pointing the finger and punishing our women, the federal government should be investing in Aboriginal-led programs that support women to meet their goals,” Braybrook said.
ParentsNext came under fire in November last year, when The Guardian reported single mothers were being forced by their providers to attend activities such as “story time”, swimming lessons or playgroup in order to keep their payments.
In NFVPLS’ joint submission, it revealed between July and December 2018, parents had their payments suspended over 16,000 times – in a program containing 75,000 participants of whom 95 per cent are female.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Volunteering Australia both called for a radical reform of ParentsNext in their submissions, and echoed concerns the program was inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations.
The Aus Human Rights Commission has expressed serious concerns about the ParentsNext program. The compulsory, punitive program affects some of the most disadvantaged parents & children in Australia, with potentially severe financial & human rights impacts. https://t.co/KuUleK2A9J
— AusHumanRights (@AusHumanRights) February 6, 2019
AHRC said ParentsNext risked entrenching poverty and inequality in Australia, and recommended the program be voluntary with no scope to cut payments.
Volunteering Australia’s submission said while it was pleased to see more people engaged in volunteering as part of their compliance activities, it emphasised the act of volunteering should be “an end unto itself and should be done of a [person’s] free will”.
The group called on the government to make ParentsNext voluntary and give participants the chance to volunteer as part of the program, given the flexibility it provided.
The Greens have urged the government to suspend ParentsNext while they reassess the program.
Senator Rachel Siewert said the latest figures showing the high number of parents having their payments suspended was deeply concerning.
“In what world does a government think that it is acceptable that mothers and their children are denied access to essential income and are then forced to rely on food relief?” Siewert said.
“Poverty in early childhood leads to poorer outcomes. Cutting parents’ payments means they can’t afford food and they can’t pay their bills… This should not be happening in a society as wealthy as our own.”
The government has continually defended the program, arguing it has helped 3,500 people find paid work since April 2016.
Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer told ABC Radio in November the program was about providing support for parents to put them in a strong position “so that when their child actually gets to school age they can be job ready”.