Painful cuts for single parents

Professor Lesley Chenoweth - Social welfare researcher & Head of Logan campus
Professor Lesley Chenoweth AO has been named in the top 10 of Australia's most influential women.

Defining a sole parent and the support they need to fulfil their many roles as parent, student, unemployed job-seeker or part-time employee is a difficult task.

As of January 13 this year, many sole parents lost access to the Parenting Payment which helps support them to study and work, whilst raising their children. This was because their child or children had passed the age of seven years old, which is now the determined age to receive less assistance, may only receive the Newstart Allowance.

New findings from the Salvation Army in their 2013 Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS) paint a picture of the struggles of people with limited economic and social resources. The report has shown that there was a 12 per cent increase in people since 2012 on Newstart seeking help from the organisation and more than 40 per cent of them were single parents.

Social welfare researcher and Head of Griffith’s Logan Campus, Professor Lesley Chenoweth says it isn’t only the cuts to Parenting Payments which are negatively affecting vulnerable families within the local community.

“The average cut to benefits for these sole parent families is at least $100 per week, but there are other factors too,” she said.

“A lot of people, when they’re on benefits, rely on the additional support of community organisations like the Salvos and other charities to help them pay for important daily or weekly costs, like utility bills, or to acquire food vouchers. These are an additional safety net for vulnerable families, but a lot of those programs have closed now due to cuts to state funding.”

Griffith student Danielle Bennetts is a first year student from the Bachelor of Child & Family Studies degree and a sole parent with a daughter aged six and a half. The changes to the Parenting Payments will affect her most right in the middle of her degree — a time when she needs it most.

When Michelle asked Centrelink about the changes to Parenting Payments, the advice she received was simple: “You should have started your degree sooner, so you could be finished before your daughter turns 8.”

Unfortunately the changes only came about as she was entering university for the first time.

Another single mum, Renee Barwick is in her first year of a Bachelor of Social Work at Griffith and is expecting to see her Parenting Payments cut during her studies. She is concerned she may have to drop out before completing her degree.

“If the government supported education and opportunities to gain qualifications the outcome would be more qualified people with more opportunities to gain long-term careers in jobs that would enable them to financially support their families into the future. This would prevent them from having to return periodically to the welfare system for support.”