THE FEDERAL government's new changes to single parent pension payments could see thousands of single parents left in financial hardship from January next year. The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Bill 2012, passed in parliament this week, will see single parents whose children turn eight-years old pushed from the single parents' pension onto Newstart payments, effectively receiving about $60 a week less. Up until now, single parents have been eligible for the Parenting Payment Single until their children turned 12-years old. Welfare groups across Australia have been campaigning to see the bill overturned, saying the government's attempts to make savings in the budget will place over 100,000 single parents and their children into an even greater risk of poverty and homelessness.
CEO of Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC), Tony Davies said while the bill was attempting to increase the numbers of people returning to the workforce, it would not be effective unless the government also provided more new ways to facilitate single parents' participation in the workplace.
About one in seven single parents find it hard to secure paid work because they are caring for a child with a disability, have a disability themselves, or have limited qualifications.
"These payment cuts are unlikely to lead to any significant improvement in their employment prospects or skills and by shifting people to lower payments, the bill would simply make them poorer and have a significant adverse impact on families in our region," Mr Davies said.
According to census statistics, the Richmond-Tweed region has a greater percentage of sole parent families (19%) than in the rest of the country (16%) and about 90% of these families are headed by women.
"We live in a regional area where employment opportunities are hard to find and there are not a lot of options for people who need to take low-paid, part-time work that fits around their living situation," Mr Davies said. "Over time, it will increasingly disadvantage families as the cost of living increases more than the increase in Newstart allowance and the working poor with young, primary school children will not be able to afford many things such as after-school care, sporting activities and other living costs.
Single mum from Lismore, Rosie has a 16-month-old son while the legislation changes will not affect her for a few years yet, she was worried about what that it will mean for her ongoing ability to look after her son.
"I was pushed into being a single mum when my husband passed away a year ago," Rosie said. "I ended up losing our family business and my job; it's not like we chose to break up and as a result, I was forced into dealing with Centrelink.
"It's already scary for me now because I'm going to have to sell the house and change my situation. I worry that I won't be able to keep up my home loan repayments, especially with the increasing interest rates as well as increasing costs for rates, insurance, water, electricity and other bills.
"I'd like to get back into work, but there are not many jobs in the local area; you need qualifications to get a job and it's easier for people going straight into work after school than it is for someone who's been a parent for a while. If I'm going to have to make cuts to my spending, it would be for luxuries like the internet, computer or my mobile phone, I wouldn't keep my son from getting what he needs."
A new service to help families affected by changes to parenting payments has just been established at YWCA NSW Northern Rivers. Louise Collins is the coordinator of the new Working for Families service under the Communities for Children Project (CfC) and will work with local support services to help families affected by the changes to parenting payments. The service may be able to assist people to access training, parenting networks and help them navigate Centrelink services and learn practical skills like budgeting, balancing work and family life and dealing with stress. Interrelate Family Centres will also be starting a Single Parent Social Group under CfC. Phone 6623 2750.