Families lose out again – particularly women and children

* 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.

 

14 Comments

  1. Marilu

    Thank you Tara I’m a part time working older(53yrs) single mum bringing up a 9yr old boy….. Living in dread that I should lose my job in this economic climate and have to live on new start… Very scary – u have voiced all my thoughts at the inequality of it all!

  2. Tara

    I’m in the same boat as Marilu, but working full time, and dreading the day my employer tells me I’ve used up all my sick leave on caring for children, or that I’m not flexible enough in my available working hours. Fortunately my employer is very unlikely to ever make this call, but it has happened to me in the past and I know I would have been in serious trouble if I had had only Newstart to rely on while I was looking for another job.

    The “haters” out there seem to assume that all single mothers on Newstart somehow brought their situation upon themselves, totally disregarding the very valid points you raised of unexpected divorce, death, abuse, health issues by either parent or any one of hundreds of possible things that could change a family’s circumstances.

    They also love to admonish us and question how ridiculous it is that we can’t get a job once the youngest child is in full time education. Guess what, folks, there aren’t that many jobs out there that offer much flexibility at all, and those that do are in very high demand. Many mothers who have been out of the workforce for several years whilst caring for babies and toddlers may lack up to date skills and experience, and thereby end up losing out to workers who haven’t taken this time out.

    When it comes right down to it, the issue should be about the well-being of the children of Australia, not chucking blame around at the parents who find themselves in need of some assistance.

  3. Sonya

    I totally agree with what has been said- women are getting a raw deal! I am a mother of two children and I have been through a lot in their short lives. Their father and I were married however after he called it quits I was left with nothing. Without the Parenting Payments I would not have known what to do.
    As for this Newstart allowance- it’s pittance to raise a family with! How am I supposed to give my children the best start in life with the best education without the money or help? I have been studying while the children were little but as for me getting a job, I highly doubt I would get into my chosen field without “experience” yet I wouldn’t get the experience without someone giving me a job… It’s a very bad catch 22 and there is nothing that the government is doing to help.
    What makes it worse is that people are losing their jobs left, right and centre because of this horrible economy! So how am I supposed to compete with a person who has been working up until this point, for the same job?
    I love my children and I wouldn’t change the fact I am a stay at home mum, and if the government would realise that there are mums out there who are trying to make the best for their children’s futures then they might try and help. But in saying that- I’m not holding my breath…

  4. velvet eldred

    I have been so moved by the stories of single parents struggling to survive. We also need to look into the quandry that if you do work a couple of jobs and study the hours one gets to spend with the kids is small. If these kids then get into trouble…guess what ‘we are blamed fir not bring a responsible parent’. No matter what we do as women it is never enough. I have friends, single parents with a disabled child. Please belive me when I say job support agencies help no one but themselves. I had part timework and was often called to interviews while working. To take this time off was anxiety ridden, speaking to my employer and leaving my casually paid hour’s. I also want to point out the changing nature of employment….all those self serve counters at shops….were jobs once. When does making more money become penalised for jobs lost to the market. I am supporting the movement of single parent voters and looking into other parties.

  5. Deb Nesbitt

    No Tara, fuel tax credits did not get cut in the Budget. According to an OECD report on 2011 fossil fuel subsidies, in 2010 the diesel fuel tax credit cost Aust tax payers $7.2bn. Combined fed, WA and Qld govt subsidies to petroleum alone were worth $7.1433bn in 2010.Fed, WA and Qld govt subsidies to natural gas amounted to $51.84m in 2010, while combined fed and WA subsidies to coal were worth $36.72m in 2010. The 2013/14 fed budget did cut some of the coal sector tax deductions, and they are screaming of course. Thanks for the story. I’m a single mum from pregnacy got no maternity leave, somehow have survived and my 15 yr old boy is soooo conservative about drugs etc I can’t believe what a good job I’ve done! So far anyway. I was nearly 40 and thought I knew what I was doing, but f** me it’s been tough. When you do 15 hour days, every single day, year in year out, I look at many people and think “they don’t know what hard work is”. Eva’s right on the ball. ta

  6. belinda rogers

    Loved your appearance at Sydney Writers Festival on panel of Writers who Blog.

  7. Joanne Savas

    I say Hear, Hear Tara. I am very fortunate to have a loving, supportive partner. Together we have a daughter, now 13. I do not have to work, although I have done,while raising our child. I am currently fortunate enough that I am able to home educate her, which means that I am a stay at home mother. I feel sincere empathy, and great admiration for all single parents, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to their particular status. I do not support the current money saving decisions Australia’s politicians have voted on that place this countries single parents and their children in financial peril. I will not support the current political party nor the opposition party when voting comes around in September. I will be looking out for a ‘new breed’ of politician who cares about the future welfare of Australia’s single parents.

  8. Diane

    Just came across this and I know that I am a little late but think that what is also missing from all these arguments are older parents and carers of young children. In my case not only did I have care of my grandchild but was carer for my mother, Around the same time my grandchild turned 6 my mother died there has been no real reprieve or time to grieve or assess the situation since. Center-link and job seek workers though sympathetic are law bound.

    Dusting off my old very outdated resume, I find that I am terrified. I have one and a half years to sort it out and be in the workforce. There is no support for people like me and my hopes are pinned on this week maybe getting a community loan to fastrack back to the real world. Even if I get the loan for education $3000 is alot of money… If I am still jobless by the time my grandchild turns 8 it means that my income can at anytime be taken away for up to 3 months at a time. (I have seen it happen more then once) If I get work (even a cleaning job) finding child care in a rural area is often like finding a needle in a haystack. My last employment officer actually had to leave her job because she couldnt get childcare during the school holidays (and she was married)

    Stressed enough that I now have an impotent psychologist trying to help.. but even he admits defeat against this system.
    I am still one of the lucky ones… may the powers that be help those that are older or in worse circumstances then me…

    Oh and going Liberal is no answer.. they plan further cuts to single parents that are almost as big…

  9. Very good article Tara, I can not begin to imagine how single mums and single dads who for what ever reason are out of work can possibly survive and lead a reasonable life. There are differences (unfairly) between mens and womens average salaries and it is something that ought to be addressed properly. But there is also the great divide between the very well paid and the low paid within our community, this to is an area of concern.

    Can l just add that under Tony Abbotts paid parental leave scheme all working women will be entitled to 6 x months parental leave paid at the full rate of their usual pay (capped at $150K)

    The issue l want to raise here is we will end up with 2 x mums living next door to one another, who are both claiming the Abbott paid parental leave scheme. One being a full time worker at the local McDonalds and the other being a Manager of a large corporation. The two mums l speak about will both have equal number of nappies to change and equal number of bottles to feed, yet one mum will be paid $3000 per week for raising their newborn baby, while the other will be doing the same (raising her baby) but she will be paid $500 or $600 per week.

    Just another example of the unfairness and inequality, and sometimes the inequality ain’t a gender thing….. it’s a social thing !

  10. Lee

    It seems absurd to me that society see’s single mothers as a scourge on society. Often these mothers are single because they have left abusive men to protect the children. Often they are single because deadbeat fathers have left them. Even those young girls who become pregnant early in life, they did not become pregnant on their own. If these abusive, deadbeat and spermdoner men were facing off in court with these mothers, legally (based on statistics also) they would be considered equal to these mothers. Legal courts grant these sort of men parental responsibility more often than not if they seek it. Why then, does the court of society and political decisions make judgements on those mothers who do it on their own. Who sacrifice so much by doing the right thing and parenting their children. To hopefully raise young men who make better choices and young women who will learn from their mistakes. Why are they judged and not the true scourge on society, which is these men.

  11. Hallie Wyant

    Tara

    I am an American mom who is trapped in Australia with no support and all responsibility for 2 kids due to abusive ex and court ordered abuse..basically.

    My story is one that could be a mini series called wtf: australia is the lucky country…nawt. i once loved this country…then i became a single mom here. You truly could not believe what ive been put through just trying to care for my kids and try to get them access to family back home. Contact me.

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