Despite being employed at equivalent levels to partnered mothers, over a thousand single mothers recently surveyed by CSMC report that they are struggling to get ahead financially.
This is one of the strongest findings of the second CSMC national survey. The report, “Navigating Turbulence” has now been released.
The report surveyed 1168 single mums from around Australia on questions about housing, income levels, employment status, education, family violence, family law, and the impacts of COVID.
The data from the survey, the largest of its kind in Australia, reveals that across all levels of employment, 87% of single mothers are concerned about their long-term financial circumstances, and the cost and insecurity of housing is a significant challenge. While 78 per cent of survey respondents were in paid employment, 61 per cent (with 1,143 children) supported a family on less than $60,000 a year (median Australian income is $65,000 a year). This becomes more distressing when we overlay their incomes with the Australian poverty lines.
Making this calculation identifies that 56% of respondents are currently living below the poverty line, with the rate increasing according to the number of children in their care. “Sadly for single mothers a job and higher education is no protection against financial insecurity,” says CSMC CEO Jenny Davidson.
According to the report, 67 per cent of single mothers surveyed experienced family violence, increasing to 75 per cent in families with a mother and/or child who are living with a disability.
“Family violence in all its forms is a significant issue for single mothers,” Ms Davidson says. “Our society needs to address this outrage. Perpetrators go on with their lives while women are left struggling to protect their children and provide them with essentials like a roof over their heads. Our survey reveals family violence impacts future employment, health and financial security and needs to be taken into account by policymakers.”
Safe and affordable housing was the main concern for survey respondents, with nearly half (49 per cent) not feeling confident about their long-term housing. Single mothers from all income brackets were represented in all housing types – a fifth reporting they live in insecure housing, 43% are trying to compete with double-income applicants in private rental and a small number earning over $100,000 living in tents or caravan parks, unable to secure rentals.
Respondents experienced homelessness and marginal housing at almost four times the national average (1.9 per cent compared with 0.5 per cent), which applied to the broader population would equate to 12,500 mothers with 22,500 children homeless.
Women reported applying for more than 100 rental properties and being rejected from all of them; having to sleep in their car; escaping violence and having to pay more for their transitional housing than they would in equivalent private rental; being assaulted at a motel where they were housed temporarily; waiting more than four years for priority housing and having to give up their children to a family member because of homelessness.
“Discrimination in relation to housing is most prevalent in the rental market,” Ms Davidson says. “Some algorithms used by real estate agents instantly reject single mothers; and in most cases, preference is given to two-income families.
“We need financial investment in affordable, appropriate and secure rental housing for single mother families, mortgage assistance akin to rental assistance, extension of the Family Home Guarantee Scheme and incentives for financial institutions to provide mortgages to women with financial capacity to service them, including those aged 50 and over.”
Census data reveals there are 864,000 single mother families in Australia, heading 12.7 per cent of families with dependent children. and single mothers work marginally more hours a week than other Australian women. However, they are vulnerable because of casualisation of the workforce, with a significant loss of paid hours during COVID.
“It’s time to end the stigma and recognise how courageous and resilient single mothers are and how hard they work,” says Ms Davidson. “Most single mums are employed, or they are studying. Most have their children 12 days a fortnight – they are full-time primary carers while also holding down a job. But employment is no guarantee of a liveable income.”