As part of CSMC’s campaign to raise the eligibility of Parenting Payment Single, CEO Jenny Davidson wrote this letter to the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and senior ministers. We think it says it all.
Dear Prime Minister, Treasurer, Ministers and Senators,
I am writing to contribute to the final decision making underway regarding restoring access to Parenting Payment Single (PPS) until a single mother’s youngest child is 16 – or 12/13/14.
As CEO of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children for the past seven years, I have encountered and represent thousands of single mothers fighting to support their children, and there is no doubt that restoring access to PPS will help alleviate the dire poverty that 37% of these families live in.
The importance of having the cut-off age returned to 16, or ideally when the youngest finished school, is multiple.
This is not a request that single mothers remain at home with their teenage children for four additional years, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as health and mental health issues their children are struggling with, given the rise of anxiety among teenagers post-COVID, or the challenging and often lengthy journey for families to recover from family violence.
The majority of single mothers are working by the time their children enter high school. Those that can work full-time or earn significant income with a part-time wage will move themselves off the social security net. It is the families that continue to need support in order to complete their essential unpaid care of their children that we must focus on, and pushing them into poverty by prematurely moving them to JobSeeker, when their child is 12, 13 or 14, will have the same impact on these families as the current cut-off age of 8 has done, as has been clearly illustrated by academic research: poverty and mothers facing terrible choices about how much they eat, how much they can feed their children, and struggling to prove basic necessities such as adequate housing, medical needs and heating/ cooling etc.
The reality is that many single mothers are in casual work. Part-time work has become hard to secure with the casualisation of the workforce. Full-time work is difficult to juggle with sole care responsibilities or shared care in which women are much more likely to have care responsibilities during the working week, with the corresponding opportunity cost. PPS for these families provides a backup as their income rises and falls depending on the hours worked and their availability around their immutable caring responsibilities. The gendered nature of this issue, affecting a much greater majority of single mothers than fathers, is apparent here – they have more care during the standard work week, they have a reduced earning capacity with the gender wage gap and lower paid female-dominated industries, and they are over-represented in insecure casualised industries, many of which were decimated during COVID with a commensurate gendered impact.
Another point is that many families will not be on PPS for the whole time until their youngest turns 16. They may work full-time, or part-time earning enough to preclude them, but if they lose their jobs, their children develop critical issues in their teens requiring their mothers to be around more, or they find themselves a single mother escaping family violence, they can call on PPS and continue to survive.
The final and pivotal point is that teenagers cost more than children. They eat more. They grow quickly, and into adult clothes and shoes that are more expensive than children’s. As they enter high school in year 7 (generally by the age of 12) they need new uniforms, often different devices from primary school, expensive textbooks, and internet if they are to be able to keep up at school. While there are state-based supports for some of these costs, their shortfall is demonstrated by the rush of applications we receive annually for our back-to-school financial aid; we target our aid at single mothers with Victorian secondary students, as we do not have enough funding for all children and the costs of high school surpass those of primary school. By the time children enter their final years of school – years 10-12 – they really cannot manage with a school loan device, as they need it at home to complete homework, and internet access to do so.
By cutting the access to PPS to any age below 16, we are placing additional barriers to these children’s school completion. Given the well-documented link between finishing high school and future earning capacity, we thereby risk condemning these children to intergenerational poverty or lower incomes. This may greatly reduce their future tax paying capacity, which offsets the cost of proving support to families in this phase of life when they need it.
Single mothers want the best for their children, and fight with determination and self-deprivation to provide it. These women are not idlily languishing on any of our society security payments while they watch financial hardship impact their children. If they can work, they will. If they are not working, it is for very good reason – different for each family, but always sound. It is these families that need to draw on our social security net during these years of providing vital unpaid care of their children, including teenagers, and as a society it is time for us to agree that needing the social security net to raise teenagers should not equate to surviving on poverty level payments.
For the future wellbeing of single mothers and their children, please restore single parents’ access to Parenting Payment Single until their youngest finishes school or turns 16.
I am always happy to discuss these issues further.