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Gender and class equality should go hand in hand

  • 16 October 2012

Last week we witnessed one of the most powerful articulations of gender equality by any prime minister. It was heartening that so many women felt the prime minister was giving voice to their experience of gender-based oppression and discrimination. And it was significant that we have reached a stage in our evolution as a nation where feminist analysis is not marginalised even though the reality of sexism is still with us.

But it was saddening that on the same day the Government and Opposition pushed through legislation to force more than 140,000 sole parents onto a Newstart Allowance that has seen no real increase since 1994.

There was no articulation of gender equality in this action. Rather, there was an expression of a warped political consensus that these households, predominantly headed by women, are fair game; that it is alright to put the boot into these families because they are purportedly outside the moral boundaries of the sacred labour market.

No one is questioning the logic of employment participation as a policy objective. Indeed, around 50 per cent of the affected sole parents are already in some form of paid work. We do, however, need to note the inaccuracy of describing these parents as 'jobless' or 'workless'. This assumption bespeaks a real lack of understanding of the value of caring as a social good that goes way beyond the bounds of commodification.

The fundamental flaw of this legislation is that, though it will result in a saving of $728 million over four years, it will do nothing to assist sole parents into employment. It will result in a decline in the availability of some of the supports that might have been available on the Parenting Payment, and a weekly cut of between $65 and $115.

You don't help people into jobs by forcing them into poverty. You don't build people up by putting them down.

We can only hope that this cut does not result in homelessness for some of these families. A weekly cut of $100 could easily mean the difference between paying the rent and having to sleep in a car.

The Parliament's own Human Rights Committee was unconvinced by the Government's assurance that these families were not going to be pushed into poverty. In a worrying