Putting food on the table, staying ahead on the rent, paying for kids’ uniforms and excursions – these are some of the challenges which are about to get a little easier for 57,000 Australian single parents and their children.
Almost exactly a decade after fiscal tightening cut families off from the Parenting Payment (Single) when their youngest child turned eight, the federal government has announced that change is on the way, recognizing the evidence which shows single mothers are often forced into policy-induced poverty.
From September 2023 (subject to the passage of legislation), single parents will remain on the PPS until their youngest child is 14, instead of having to move to the much lower JobSeeker rate.
Ministers were influenced to make the change by data contained in a report by the Paul Ramsay Foundation’s Inaugural Fellow, Dr Anne Summers AO. That report, The Choice: Violence or Poverty (2022) contained previously unpublished ABS data that revealed that 60 per cent of single mothers were single because they had left violence relationships, and that around half of these women were totally reliant on government benefits as their only income.
“This policy change corrects a grievous policy mistake, one which pushed women to the financial and psychological brink and which had serious repercussions for their children as well,” says Anne Summers.
“More than half of all single mothers have left violent relationships, but rather than providing security or even much of a safety net, the system punished them by pushing them into poverty and disadvantage.”
Single Mother Families Australia CEO Terese Edwards has long been a leading advocate for this policy change and says the Budget announcement signalled respect for single mothers, acknowledging what they do and who they put first.
“No one wins when families face a daily struggle to hang on for economic survival,” she says. “We’re thrilled to see single mothers given some dignity back - the unemployment payment was never designed for sole parents and fails to recognise the reality of their lives; it hampers future planning and erodes their aspirations.”
Lifting the age cutoff is expected to benefit an additional 57,000 single carers, with nine out of 10 being women.
These parents will now receive the higher support, with a current base rate of $922.10 per fortnight (an increase of $176.90 per fortnight), until their youngest child turns 14.
The Paul Ramsay Foundation (PRF) is working to enable equitable opportunities for people and communities to thrive across Australia. We recognise that supporting single parents can break cycles of disadvantage with intergenerational impact.
PRF was proud to support Single Mother Families Australia to hold a Women's Economic Security forum at Parliament House in 2023 and secure lived experience participation of single mothers experiencing economic insecurity.
PRF CEO Professor Kristy Muir says philanthropy has an important role to play in helping to amplify the voices of people directly affected by policy decisions such as this.
“People living in the most challenging circumstances in our society are often made to feel powerless, in that they simply don’t get a seat at the table when the big decisions are made,” Kristy says.
“Philanthropy has the opportunity and a responsibility to make sure that these voices are not overlooked. We can help drive lasting change by elevating their lived experiences so they are recognised and brought into the policymaking process.”
Terese says there is new optimism among single mothers, but warned that there was still more work to do.
“Raising the PPS age cutoff from 8 to 14 and ending the punitive ParentsNext program makes the road ahead a little brighter for single mothers, showing respect and giving hope.
“We will continue to press the case for the Parenting Payment (Single) to be fully reinstated so it is accessible until children are 16 years old, recognising the difficulty of the teenage years and the burden of extra costs during this time.”
Dr Anne Summers says the Government’s move to lift the PPS age was welcome recognition of the inequity these women faced and the role that policy had played in entrenching disadvantage.
“This will transform lives, but we need to go all the way to reverse the catastrophic mistakes of the past and get the age back up to 16 as soon as possible,” she says. “Single mothers are carrying an enormous load for themselves while seeking to establish a safe and happy life for their children.
“We need to back them, to invest in them and their children.”