Listening to the brave stories of 10 single mothers makes it clear that the legislative change that shifted single parents onto a reduced level of government support, known as Newstart, when their youngest child turned eight, has not had the intended effect. The vast majority of these women were already working when the change took place, and many were also undertaking further education to improve their future prospects. These sole parents are now stuck in a cycle of working in insecure, part-time, low paid roles struggling to cover the basics. Their education has been put on hold and everyday activities, like school excursions and sport, are out of reach. Their children’s future prospects are suffering and that affects us all.
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Sam is a single mother to twin girls. She has a degree and is currently studying for a post graduate degree and trying to set up her own business – her dream is to earn a decent living so she can lift her and her girls out of poverty. Since being put onto Newstart the family has $130 a fortnight less to live on, and due to the higher clawback rates of Newstart on her earnings, Sam is losing even more money the more she works. (See THE FACTS to understand how this works.) She is only getting by thanks to charity from her family. “Although I could not live without this support and am very grateful for it, I can say it comes with the loss of dignity.”
Penny was a stay-at-home mum, so when her marriage ended she found herself with two boys to support and no recent work experience. Determined to turn things around she approached the Liverpool Neighbourhood Connections in Sydney who helped her enroll in an Outreach Program at TAFE. She’s since completed a Certificate III in Micro Business and is currently undertaking a Certificate III in Retail. She now works part time at the Warwick Farm Neighbourhood Centre doing everything from lawn mowing to working in the café. Since being placed on Newstart the small amount of additional income she earns is substantially reduced because of the higher clawback rate on earnings under Newstart. (See THE FACTS to understand how this happens) To cope she’s had to withdraw her sons from some of their after school sporting activities.
Wendy has been in part time employment sometimes several jobs at the same time – since her daughter was just three months old. As well as working and being the sole carer of her now 10 year old, Wendy is also studying at TAFE, trying to gain the qualifications she needs to keep working in her current job as a book-keeper. After being moved off the PPS and onto Newstart in January 2013 she lost around $170 a fortnight; she’s now working more hours than ever, but is still financially worse-off than when she was on the PPS. (see THE FACTS to understand how this can be) The extra work hours are impeding her capacity to study and she’s worried she won’t gain this vital qualification that is the pathway out of poverty for her and her daughter.
Bianca is the sole carer of her twin 8 year-old boys, one of whom has Asperger’s syndrome. She went back to full time employment when her twins were 18 months old but was made redundant approximately two years ago. Since then she has struggled to find full time work, and her low earnings when she does work have not been enough to keep her and her sons out of poverty. To improve her long term earning potential Bianca has started studying law, but since she was placed on Newstart in January 2013 she is unsure whether she can afford to keep up with her studies.
Barbara is an Indigenous woman and a survivor of the Stolen Generation. She was taken away from her mother at the age of two years old and spent 15 years of her life in a government welfare family group home. Today Barbara is connected with her Aboriginal family and has had seven children – four alive today – and five grandchildren. She has spent time trying to live on Newstart and seen firsthand the terrible impacts on children when their parent or caregiver is struggling with poverty.
Bienvenue is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After four years in a refugee camp in Uganda she and her four sons arrived in Australia on humanitarian visas. Because her husband was unable to join them Bienvenue spent the first few years surviving in a new country as a single parent. Because her youngest son was over the age of eight she was automatically placed on Newstart instead of a Parenting Payment – leaving her barely enough money to survive.
Meredith is a 35-year old mum with an eight-year old son. She is currently studying four days a week, hoping that better qualifications will be the key that will lead her and her son out of a life of poverty. Meredith struggles with the high cost of living in Sydney, and while life was tough on the PPS, under Newstart it is nearly unbearable. Even with Rent Assistance Newstart only just covers the cost of their tiny two-bedroom unit, 30 minutes drive from TAFE and school. After being put on Newstart Meredith had to pull her son out of his only extra-curricular activity – gymnastics, once a week – because she could no longer afford the $15. She’s worried she’ll have to withdraw from her studies because she can’t afford it anymore, and feels she can no longer shield her son from the realities of a life of poverty.
Kerry is mother to a 10-year old daughter. She started full time study when her daughter was two, and part-time work when she was five. The shift onto Newstart at the beginning of 2013 left Kerry and her daughter a massive $220 a fortnight worse off. Most weeks now Kerry finds her financial outgoings are greater than her incomings. She is only surviving by dipping into her rapidly diminishing savings. In 2013 Kerry’s car was badly damaged in an accident and she wasn’t able to fix it or replace it. Relying solely on public transport for school pick-ups, shopping and work has added to the hardship experienced by the family, and further reduced Kerry’s future employment options.
Sarah is a 30-year old Indigenous woman and mother to three kids all under 10. Until her marriage broke down three years ago she had a good job and lived in decent private rental. However the years since the break-up have been tough, both financially and emotionally, with Sarah and her kids experiencing extreme stress and periods of homelessness. At the end of 2013 when her youngest turns eight, Sarah’s meagre income support will be slashed when she is moved from PPS onto Newstart – she fears the family will again become homeless.
Diane lives with her three boys in public housing. As well as raising her children she works tirelessly as a volunteer in her community, helping the homeless and the disadvantaged. She is also studying at TAFE to become a community development worker. Money has always been tight for this family, but being pushed onto Newstart in January 2013 has plunged them even deeper into poverty. Diane is still studying as she is confident this will lead her to sound employment in the future, but she’s had to make some tough choices – including pulling her son who has cystic fibrosis out of much needed swimming classes.