On Budget Night, Tuesday 9 May, single parents had a significant victory: the Parenting Payment Single will now be accessible to single parents until their youngest child turns fourteen years. This is a terrific outcome – even if it is not a silver bullet for the poverty of single mother families.
The planned date for making this change is 20 September 2023. This is when Parliament will have passed legislation to enact it, which is fairly guaranteed as the Government has the numbers in the House of Representatives and the support of the Greens and much of the cross-bench in the Senate.
Parents who were moved to JobSeeker from Parenting Payment Single when their youngest child turned eight years old will now be eligible to again access PPS if they need the support of our social security net.
People aged between 55 and 59 years who have been receiving JobSeeker for over nine months will have an increase to the same rate as people aged sixty to sixty-seven, prior to eligability for the pension at age 67. This payment is higher, recognising the difficulties for older people finding work, and will assist a significant number of older women.
Everyone in receipt of a working age or youth payment including JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment (Partnered), Austudy, ABSTUDY, Disability Support Pension (under 21 without a dependent child), Special Benefit and Farm Household Allowance JobSeeker will have a payment rise of $40 per fortnight, with the exception of those receiving Parenting Payment Single.
These payments are similarly expected to begin 20 September 2023.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance will raise by fifteen percent, or $31 per fortnight.
Mutual obligation change
ParentsNext, a program that has been compulsory for parents receiving the Parenting Payment (both Single and Partnered) with children under six years, has ceased to be mandatory or subject from mutual obligations from 23 May 2023, a cause for great celebration. This now means no parent on the program can have their income support suspended or cancelled. A new voluntary and genuinely beneficial program will be co-designed for launch in July 2024.
Are we happy with these changes?
The change to PPS and end of ParentsNext is a considerable victory reflecting years, indeed decades, of determined advocacy and effort.
However, we are deeply disappointed that so many vulnerable people are being left behind, as neither the expanded access to Parenting Payment Single, the increase to social security payments, nor the rent assistance rise will significantly improve the quality of life for those struggling in the ongoing economic crisis.
Above all, we are concerned that all the small changes leave fundamental problems in the structure of our social security system and add to its complexity. We are particularly concerned as such complexities contributed to the Robodebt debacle and continue to present difficulties for all people dealing with Centrelink.
The Howard and Gillard Governments’ cuts to single parent supports would not have been so dire had JobSeeker been indexed to wages in line with the Howard Government’s 1997 decision to index pensions. The sole parents concerned would still have had access to liveable income support if unemployed, but subject to firmer obligations related to seeking paid employment.
Sitting underneath these changes and others in Social Security are differing rates of indexation for differing payments. This is not a new problem but has been long in the making. The result of it is that the gap between pensions and payments is large and growing, and the actions of this government will continue the trend.
We would like to see a standard minimum income support across all pensions and payments along with high quality training, childcare and other supports. Historically, many single mother members finished school, got a degree or undertook a TAFE training or further education with the support from JET – the Jobs, Education and Training scheme for sole parents that operated in the 1980s and 1990s.
Perhaps in the next budget…