Children in two-parent families don't deserve government support. That's the message the government and opposition sent last month when they passed legislation to cut family payments for two-parent families, while other families still get cash payments.
Government amendments to secure Labor Party support resulted in the bizarre situation where a sole parent earning up to $100,000 per year will continue to receive Family Tax Benefit Part B and an annual supplement of $3091.55 per year when their youngest child turns 13, while a single breadwinner couple family on $40,000 per year, or, worse, unemployed, will have their payment cut when their youngest turns 13. This means the single breadwinner couple family will lose a payment worth $74.83 per week.
Family payments should not be cut for anyone, especially low-income families.
Why are the major parties targeting two-parent families? The government believes the only developmental support a child needs is a household income. The value of close family relationships which can only be nurtured when parents and their children have time together is, in the view of the government, marginal.
The government is using economic coercion to force more parents into the workforce or to join the ranks of the unemployed, not because they are concerned for the welfare of children but because the government hopes to make savings to spend elsewhere.
Children should not be discriminated against because they have two parents. Some families are willing to make financial sacrifices to have one parent at home. These cuts will strip families of the capacity to exercise choice. Families who want to provide for the welfare of their children by being at home will no longer have this option when their youngest child turns 13.
The government has provided little justification for moving away from the longstanding policy that family payments are made in recognition of the extra costs that families face compared to others with similar income.
The disparity means two-parent families will be better off financially if they separated. Is that the kind of incentive we want built into government programs?
The family payments are a legacy of the Howard government, building on the work of the Keating government and federal governments dating back to 1936.
In his memoir Lazarus Rising, John Howard argued 'it is sound public policy to ensure that taxpayers who carry heavier family responsibilities than other taxpayers, at the same level of income, should receive some support through the taxation system for carrying those responsibilities ...
'Surely it is in the national interest to encourage childbearing, to help with the cost of raising children and also to recognise the contribution made to society by those who care and provide for others out of their income?'
One of the problems with recent policies from both major parties is they increasingly see families as part of the market rather than fundamental building blocks of our communities that need to be supported. Families and communities are in fact undermined by the market.
Governments of both persuasions are now putting pressure on all parents to find a paying job, even if there's already a breadwinner in the family.
The need to balance work and family life used to be the barbeque-stopper conversation that focused the minds of governments. The Australian government needs to acknowledge that while work is vital for any family, too much work, or the 'wrong' work at unsocial hours, or involving excessive travel time, has the real capacity to damage families.
Many low-income working families are already living in poverty. The new laws will put more children into poverty and those already in poverty will be in deeper poverty. Priority needs to be given to protecting children against poverty not just increasing the workforce.
These changes were not foreshadowed at the last election.
Children in two-parent families do not deserve this discrimination. Government payments should recognise the extra costs that families face compared to others with similar income, and the benefits families with children contribute to the nation.
Marcelle Mogg is CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.
Image: Chris Ford, Flickr CC
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
17 December 2015
Marcelle you will make sure that all political parties hear these views and values; we, born in the thirties,know that they work. Thank you.
17 December 2015
Well put. I have been concerned for some time that policies discourage people from spending time either in the family or the community- the emphasis on work till you drop, or that nothing is worthwhile unless its brings an income- suspect much was saved by the cup of tea with a neighbour, or listening to the angst of a teenager( who obviously doesn't need parenting anymore according to policy), or even running the household..
Neil De Cruz
18 December 2015
Several critical points that Marcelle has missed. 1) It's hard to justify families with the youngest child who is thirteen, really needing a stay-at-home parent (at the taxpayers' expense). They are legally at the age they can stay home by themselves. 2)Taxpayers comprising two parents couples in the workforce who manage to balance work and families responsibilities whilst generally happy to help out single income families with young children, would take a dim view to supporting single income families, where the secondary spouse has made a lifestyle decision to stay at home even when high school children are at school (the utility of the second parent staying at home being considerably diminished). 3) Marcelle has overlooked the important issue of the disparity in super between men and women. If policies essentially disincentive women to return to the workforce, this feminizes poverty and means that women become a burden on society relying on their spouse's super and require the aged pension when the nation can't afford it 4) Policies encouraging stay-at-home parents for the duration of the children's schooling make a nonsense of taxpayer funded university investment for (generally) the mother, as the return on university education is never recouped . Marcelle is wrong and we should be pleased that the major parties have shown leadership on this issue.
21 December 2015
Surely a stay-at-home parent whose youngest child has reached age 13 is making what Tony Abbott would have called a 'life style choice'? By all means make the choice if that's what you want, he would say, but don't expect 'working mums and dads' to pay for your decision. But what about single mums who choose to become pregnant whilst un-partnered; aren't they also making 'life style choices? So who are we trying to support, disadvantaged children or differentially values lifestyles?
Neil De Cruz
22 December 2015
Hi Ginger Meggs. The whole point of welfare is to assist those most in need who cannot assist themselves, not those who can. A single mother for example who has courageously elected to raise a child whilst un-partnered should get all the support she can get, in the absence of a father and secondary earner because of abandonment A dual couple family on the other hand, with a stay at home Mum for example, is able to assist the family by working even one day a week (or two or three as the situation demands), and receive far more than FTB B (less than $5000) even on the minimum wage, rather than rely on struggling taxpayers for benefits the family could otherwise obtain by working. Don't blur the issue by comparing abandonment of a partner through cowardice to having a stay at home mum elect to refuse to even to one day a week of work in order to extract minimal taxpayer funds that should be going to schools and hospitals.
22 December 2015
Children may be legally permitted to stay at home by themselves at age thirteen but is it really ideal that young teenagers spend days, weeks, months of every year at home unsupervised by an adult? Secondary school children have sixteen weeks off per year in public holidays, school holidays and curriculum days. That figure excludes any time in which an individual child may need to stay at home due to illness. Parenting does not end when a child turns thirteen. Family Tax Benefit Part B used to called the Dependent Spouse Rebate back when the work of the home was classed as labour. The suggestion that women who have devoted years of their lives to carer work may yet “burden” society is indicative of the current day invisibility of this work.
22 December 2015
Children may be legally permitted to stay at home by themselves at age thirteen but is it really ideal that young teenagers spend days, weeks, months of every year at home unsupervised by an adult? Secondary school children have sixteen weeks off per year in public holidays, school holidays and curriculum days. That figure excludes any time in which an individual child may need to stay at home due to illness. Parenting does not end when a child turns thirteen. Family Tax Benefit Part B used to be called the Dependent Spouse Rebate back when the work of the home was classed as labour. The suggestion that women who have devoted years of their lives to carer work may yet “burden” society is indicative of the current day invisibility of this work.
26 December 2015
Family Tax Benefit Part B (FTB B) was once called the Dependent Spouse Rebate (DSR), then the Home Child Care Allowance (HCCA). It recognised the fact that one earner’s income was supporting two adults. This did not change with any of the name changes. We need to move away from small-minded notions like “the taxpayer” and those “working” since we all pay taxes (GST, stamp duty, excises etc.) and those who run homes and care for teenagers most certainly do work. As well, when we talk about families and their carers, the situation may be nuanced: Some in paid work must work irregular or very long hours or travel overseas or there may be a teenager with a disability to care for. It may not be possible to navigate the needs of a household while having two parents in paid work, even when the children reach their teens. For families where this is possible each parent has the benefit of the generous tax-free threshold of $18,200. When one income must be split between two adults, the threshold applies only once. Hence, a family on $100,000 as a sole wage is taxed more highly than where there are two wages of $50,000. The DSR/HCAA/ FTB B was meant to be a taxation adjustment that reduced this inequity for sole earner families. It never was a welfare payment, but to read some comments on this page, it is clear that with the name changes, it has come to be seen that way.
11 January 2016
I'm with you Neil De Cruz. That's exactly the point that I was making. It's the need of the child, not the life-style choice of the parent, that is important. Marcelle's article seemed to me to be arguing for support for a traditional life-style choice.