Peril of parents losing payments

Who will protect the strugglers among us from the looming withdrawal of parenting payments, that will require all parents to return to the workforce - or the dole queues - when their youngest child turns eight?

Make no mistake, Tony Davies of the Northern Rivers Social Development Council told me - this is gender-based and will impact women and children far more than men.

Last week, in Molesworth Street, I saw a pregnant young woman go up to a male pedestrian and ask him for money. I've seen that many times before, all over the world, but rarely in Lismore during the working day.

I've seen it in the third world, where the beggar may be visibly extremely disabled; and in London, where there's an undercurrent of threat to the "gor enny spare change?" and in Paris, where I have been followed by young men who didn't know when to take no for an answer.

But I was saddened to see a young woman, not far from giving birth, so down on her luck that she had to muster whatever it took (I imagined what it would take for me) to ask a stranger in the street for financial help.

Why were we not, collectively, as a community, already supporting her?

We probably were, I hear some of you say, and she just has some bad habits, or poor budgeting skills. But look! There you go, blaming the victim.

I don't even want her to be a victim, that most humiliating of roles - I don't want to, and I don't want you to see her that way. Something has gone awfully wrong in her life. Maybe some money she was counting on didn't arrive. Circumstances beyond her control have led to this. Trust me, she'd rather be sipping cocktails in Byron Bay on a five-figure income that starts with something higher than two.

She stayed in my thoughts because it was around that time I started hearing what the withdrawal of parenting payments was going to mean to single parents (the vast majority of them are women and the vast majority of their children are … well, children, who don't want to be poor, any more than their mum does.)

Perhaps it's different in the big cities - maybe there are lots of jobs there, more than there are here for unskilled workers. But with 116 Telstra workers suddenly cast adrift into the Lismore jobs market - and they at least have something of a CV to take to the next job interview - what chance is there for the poor mum who's battled through the infancy and early school years of her children, only to find herself on a Newstart allowance, trying to find employers who'll give her an interview, so she can prove she's been looking for a job we all know doesn't exist?

Where's her safety net? Is it the next kind man she sees walking along Molesworth Street? Or the unkind one behind him?

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