In the 54 years since CSMC was founded, much has changed. Single mothers are now entitled to social security regardless of how they became single mothers; fewer single mothers are forced to relinquish their babies; and laws exist to prevent employment opportunities being denied because of the marital status of mothers. One thing has not changed: the stigma associated with receiving the social security payments that many single mothers rely on to raise their children endures.
Now, the Royal Commission into the illegal and damaging Robodebt Scheme has called it out, listing the end to welfare stigma as one of its key recommendations.
The Royal Commission was established last year to investigate the Robodebt Scheme, and has now handed down its findings and recommendations.
The Royal Commission found that Robodebt had “disastrous effects” including “families struggling to make ends meet receiving a debt notice at Christmas, young people being driven to despair by demands for payment, and horribly, an account of a young man’s suicide.”
Some people have been referred for civil and criminal charges, although the names are in a sealed chapter of the report that has not been released publicly.
Key recommendations of the Commission include designing and administering systems with users in mind, especially for people in the most vulnerable groups, and establishing a body to monitor automated decision-making.
The key recommendations can be read here.
Amongst the recommendations is that Services Australia play their part in reducing the stigma attached to receiving Centrelink payments, which the report notes contributed to Robodebt continuing despite concerns about its legality and its impact on vulnerable people.
Recommendation 10.1 says that Services Australia should “avoid language and conduct which reinforces feelings of stigma and shame associated with the receipt of government support when it is needed.”
We join with the many single mothers who have felt shamed or belittled by Centrelink processes in giving this recommendation a big nod.
We welcome the Commission’s major recommendation that changes must be made to the way that policies are designed so that the people they are meant to serve are central to the process, and that policy is administered in a way which avoids stigma or shame, is accessible, and is sensitive to people’s circumstances.