* This was first published May 17, 2013.

We recently cut payments to single parents, saying they were being ‘grandfathered’. And now we have cut some assistance to stay at home parents by changing the Baby Bonus. Those negatively affected by these changes are young children and their parents. Many of the parents who will be worse off, thanks to these changes, are single women and women who are not in paid work and therefore do not qualify for paid parental leave.

As Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told The Australian:

“Changes to the Baby Bonus will have the greatest impact on women who are either in insecure work or outside the labour market and unable to access paid parental leave. While I’m in favour of an increase to FTB A, an estimated 28,000 women will be unable to access this (alternative) payment and for those that can the amount will be less.”

Before I go further I want to acknowledge all the unpaid male carers out there – the single dads and the stay at home dads. These individual fathers will be affected as negatively as mothers. I also know more men would like the option to work part time so they can enjoy raising their kids. We need to fight for that change and the further loosening of the kinds of rigid gender roles which keep men and women tied to circumstances they do not want – either working all the time and having no home life or being tied to the home with no work life. (That is another blog). But right now I want to single out the way the changes to the single parent payments and the Baby Bonus specifically affect women, because statistically speaking, the majority of those directly affected by these changes are women and women are, as we know, paid less than men. This ‘gender pay gap’, as it is called, relates directly to the discussion of unpaid care and support.

According to the Human Rights Commission, women working full-time today earn 16 per cent less than men. Women on average also retire on about one third the superannuation of men ($37,000 compared with $110, 000) and are more likely than men to live in poverty.

One of the primary reasons for this significant economic disadvantage is that more women do unpaid work, and lots of it. They take time off to raise children and are also more likely to accept part-time work for the same reason. And let’s just say that the many women who work full-time are also unlikely to return home to find a clean house and meal on the table, ala the traditional gender roles, reversed. In fact, though it really should not be the case, child care and housework is still largely the woman’s job even for women who are working full-time. The Australian Institute of Families Studies have been looking at the gender differences between parents when it comes to paid and unpaid work. They found the following:

Mums working full-time with a youngest child under five were found to be spending an additional 3.6 hours on child care and 2.4 hours on housework a day.

A day.

That is, on average, 6 hours unpaid work per day being performed by women working full-time.

There may be some good arguments for changing the Baby Bonus, however it concerns me that by putting many single parents on the measly Newstart allowance (see: ‘Newstart benefit fails even to pay the rent’) and changing the Baby Bonus (see: ‘Scrapping of baby bonus will put strain on welfare agencies’), many women will now find even more of their financial resources cut off. These recent changes do nothing to address the pressing issue of financial inequality for those who do the valuable unpaid work of caring for others. The changes appear to add to the problem.

When I lamented online about the lack of support for mothers, I immediately (and all too predictably) heard about all the irresponsible, immature young ladies out there who like to get pregnant for money. Here is an example:

As for the $5,000 baby bonus, it’s arguably one of the reasons there are so many very young, immature, mothers out there. Fact: There are women in this country who popped out babies to get the baby bonus and then realised how little $5,000 is when you’re smoking, drinking, partying, and have an extra mouth to feed. The solution for some: another baby for another baby bonus.

Of course. Everyone knows that ‘popping out’ babies is super easy and young men, of course, have no responsibility or involvement at all in the pregnancies of young women. Let’s be sure to blame the ladies, as they are clearly grabbing for cash, even though the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Human Services tells us quite clearly that Australia’s teenage fertility has been declining since the 1970s with introduction of affordable birth control. (Affordable birth control is something we are, in some ways still fighting for today.)

Remember, if you have a baby too early you are ‘immature and irresponsible’. On the other hand, women who put off having a family for too long are also deemed ‘selfish for putting career first’ – though in many cases, frankly, they are just trying to establish a life and career, and find a suitable partner and financial situation before raising a family. And waiting until later in life can also mean women who want a family run the risk of infertility altogether. And even in cases where women are successful in having their own children later in life and are quite able to support them, they can also be viewed as selfish for having them ‘too late’ – an accusation rarely, if ever labelled at older fathers.

While I was waiting for an interview one day at the ABC two years ago, I watched horrified as a well-known business woman who had just had her third child (an unexpected pregnancy with her husband) at a late age was admonished by a caller for being selfish. As if this successful woman, in a stable relationship, should have to abort the child she and her husband had every reason to have, because she, the mother, was ‘too old’. After sharing on radio that she’d had a successful birth later in life, this was what she got.

And how about women who choose not to have children, or are not able to? That is a whole other minefield of social judgement. 

Now back to the ongoing family payment cuts. These are some of the responses on twitter today:

Those that cannot budget to procreate – shouldn’t. ! claimed one person.

perhaps women should only have babies when try can afford to? Obv. There are exceptions. But why shld tax payers cop it? claimed another.

Indeed. Let’s make sure women decide the exact right moment to reproduce. If they get it wrong, or chose a partner who dies, leaves them, abuses them or makes them deeply unhappy, screw ‘em. It’s their fault for choosing to carry, give birth to and raise the next generation.

“We must find savings . . . but I question whether those savings should come from women who are doing the important work of unpaid caring. After all, unpaid caring work is one of the main reasons women will live in poverty, particularly in later life.” – Sex Discrimination Minister Ms Broderick.

Ms Broderick’s concerns have been backed by feminist Eva Cox, AO, who said poorer women would be hit the hardest, again. “They are really hurting the same group of people they hurt last year….Whenever somebody mentions middle class welfare they really mean women,” she said.

When I asked her to elaborate, she pointed out that, “most of the policies and programs they are discussing for cuts are those that are targeted to women or cover child costs or other female related programs. The seriously upper class welfare that mainly goes to males, such as concessions for superannuation that are much more generous for higher income earners, are never thus described. These payments are also based often on income tests on joint incomes, which assume they are seriously shared but often are not, so women get their income cut.” 

Cox went on to explain that penalising low income parents further means their children will not be able to “share appropriately in schooling or health services, and cost more in the future.”

In the long term, cutting support for struggling families does not help society economically or otherwise.

The shifting of single parents on to Newstart, leaving more than 60,000 parents already on tight budgets with an estimated $60 to $100 less per week, even earned us the ire of the United Nations, who in a letter dated October 19, 2012, said there were “serious concerns” the change to parenting payments would “impede the enjoyment of human rights of those sole parents dependent on social security payments”. It’s not a good look.

You know, as a mum myself, I hear almost weekly that being a mum is the best and most important job in the world. Isn’t it ironic then that if a woman is a single parent, perhaps even protecting her children from an unhappy or abusive relationship, or surviving as a widow, those mums are told that the ‘most important job in the world’ no longer cuts it and they ought to get a real job and stop being so lazy.

Though unpaid care is integral to a functioning society, that important work seems to me to be massively undervalued.

It seems to me that we are not good enough at pushing for support and positive change for the disadvantaged in our society. Others, with more resources, are able to campaign successfully for tax cuts and other bonuses, while we gleefully buy into rhetoric about irresponsible mothers and the lazy poor.

On another note, is there any word on whether the fuel tax credits for big businesses like mining companies, which cost the budget about $5 billon dollars a year, have been cut at all?

I’m just curious.

* RELATED POSTS: Our Beautiful Meritocracy and The Invisible Women

* Photo credit: ‘Migrant Mother’ by Dorothea Lange, February 1936. Mother of 7 children, age 32. Image has been altered in texture.