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'Family first' rhetoric neglects single mothers

  • 01 March 2019


In almost every government economic policy, we hear of its concern for the family. From the NBN rollout, to emission reduction and electricity prices, government proclaims a commitment to assist families meet the financial burden of the cost of living.

Yet for all the talk about families, there remains one type of family that consistently seems to be omitted from pro-family government rhetoric: that of the single mother. Instead of making life easier for single-mother families, the government has imposed additional requirements upon single mothers as a pre-condition to their receiving the Parenting Payment they need to support themselves and their children.

The program is called ParentsNext. While referring to 'parents', the government anticipates that 'approximately 96 per cent of ParentsNext participants [are] expected to be women, including around 10,000 Indigenous women'. Despite being described as a 'support service for parents of children under the age of six', 'eligible' Parenting Payment recipients are subjected to a suite of reporting requirements and mandated 'activities' including playgroup, swimming lessons, and children's storytime. If the parent misses appointments, fails to enter into a 'participation plan' or participate in the mandated activities, then they may lose their Parenting Payments.

Many women have reported the draconian nature of the program, and the difficulty of compliance. One woman posted on social media that she was forced to attend 'activities' in the week after she had given birth. She was refused an exemption, and if she had failed to attend, would risk losing her payment. The program is currently the subject of a Senate inquiry.

While it is desirable to offer support to single parents concerning their future study or employment, mandating a process involving compulsory attendance requirements in exchange for a Parenting Payment is a form of control, rather than support. That it is imposed on a group comprised principally of single mothers is no mistake.

The single mother has long been characterised by society as a financial burden. Historically, the able-bodied have been expected to work. The Poor Laws in various iterations over the centuries in England provided a system of support for the poor at parish level. Those who were able to work but could not find work would be sent to the workhouse. Within this system, a single mother and her children would become a burden on the parish and there was therefore an incentive within the community to ascertain the father of the child so that he,