A leading non-profit group that provides specialist support services to single mothers and their children has joined forces with a collaboration of over 150 business, and community and government organisations working together to build more resilient communities.
The Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC) provides telephone and email support to single mothers, gives them a greater voice and advocates for their rights in income security, employment, affordable childcare, family law and housing and respectful treatment from government agencies.
Today, CEO of CSMC Jenny Davidson announced the organisation has joined the Thriving Communities Partnership (TCP), a cross-sector collaboration that provides Australia’s first centralised platform for learning, research, and projects that advance organisational contributions to combat vulnerability and hardship.
Jenny Davidson, CEO of CSMC said:
“We are thrilled to be working in a collaboration of such diverse organisations and businesses, all united in the belief that together we can create a community where everyone has fair access to essential services they need to thrive in Australia.”
Tim Costello, TCP Chief Advocate said: “Everyone has a right to a decent standard of living and access to modern essential services to be able to flourish and thrive.”
As a single parent working full time as a shift worker, flexible childcare is a necessity.
Seeking affordable and accessible child care has been a seven month challenge for me and neither Centrelink nor the Shire Councils in my area have offered any assistance. You can imagine how this search with no help adds to the stress single parents experience.
During the months I have tried to find child care, it seems that many Family Day Carers have closed. This seems due to a concerted effort by the Government in making it all very difficult for Family Day Care providers. Outside of In-Home Care, Family Day Care is the only flexible child care option.
In a recent article published in the Herald Sun, Dan Tehan, Federal Education Minister spoke about how more families were accessing centre-based childcare and outside school care.
What happened to the Government supporting and enhancing Family Day Care and why is that not promoted at the same time?
Is it the Governments agenda to remove choices of child care for parents and in doing so, dictate that parents should only be working Mon to Fri?
I spoke to my local Member of Parliament who wrote to Minister Tehan on my behalf. The letter that came back told me all the things the government wants me to know and nothing that suggested he understands how hard it is for single parents working shift work.
The government pays a higher hourly rate to childcare centre and for in-home care than for Family Day Care. The justifications are that Family Day Care don’t have the same overheads and also as a way of stopping what the Minister calls “disproportionate expenditure due to fee growth”.
The hourly cap of $10.90 for Family Day Care subsidies doesn’t go far for those of us working full-time shifts for a wage that is not rising and needs to cover everything.
What I would like to see is for the Government to recognise the real needs of working single parents, recognise the vital services Family Day Carers provide to the community, and provide more realistic subsidies.
CSMC is asking for Improvements to affordable in-home and flexible childcare for single parents to study, work and attend medical appointments.
Parents need more affordable, high quality childcare options. This must include additional in-home childcare options for single parents working shifts, night-time and weekend employment. Remove parenting actives as a threshold and promote universal access.
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for hardworking single mums. Many older women face poverty and homelessness in old age. The superannuation system is failing us.
After spending years at home taking my younger child to early intervention, I separated and returned to a casualised workforce with outdated work skills and Centrelink breathing down my neck. I am now 61 years old, I have been parenting solo for the last 12 years and have only just started rebuilding my superannuation balance.
Australian Taxation Office rules contribute to the gender super gap, which hits single mums the hardest. Tax Office rules state that a worker must earn more than $450 per month before receiving 9.5% Employer Superannuation Guarantee contributions.
Although I have regular part time work, it is split between several employers. With some of my jobs earning under the $450 monthly threshold, I often earn very little super. This made me wonder:
“Why is it so easy to collect 10% GST from a single mum buying a tampon but so hard to pay her the 9.5% Superannuation Guarantee?”
Fortunately, the ALP has promised to remove this threshold if it wins the federal election, and the Greens have similar policies. This would benefit me and many other mums working part time, although it would never replace the super we have lost through our years of unpaid caring work.
What both progressive parties have ignored however is the ATO ruling which states that “a private or domestic worker, such as a nanny” must work 30 hours per week to get employer super. I had assumed that no-one could miss the sexist overtones of the Tax Office naming domestic workers and nannies as being unworthy of the superannuation entitlements enjoyed by other workers.
Under this “nanny clause”, I have missed out on at least $5000 of superannuation, between 2013-2019, tutoring a government funded special needs student, as DHHS said I am not their employee and consider me a “private” worker.
This “nanny clause” particularly targets single mothers who are more likely to need private working arrangements for compelling reasons:
* The work is often easier to obtain for women returning to work who lack a recent work history or job interview techniques
* The work is usually part time and can help meet the Centrelink work requirements of single mums or older women
* The work is more flexible and can accommodate the childcare needs of a sole parent
* Many individual occupations such as nannying or domestic cleaning require little English or literacy and can be done by more disadvantaged women.
It is appalling that the most disadvantaged single mums, who are most likely to be renters, are deprived of a retirement income because of Tax Office rules, and most disappointing that we have been overlooked by every political party.
Being older and single does not make me invisible. I have written an open letter to all election candidates telling them there is a gap in their gender super gap policies and demanding that they do something about it.
Several reviews and reports have not improved our child support system.What is the evidence for this statement? In the public child support system $1.6 billion of agreements are unpaid. We don’t know how many agreements may also be unpaid in the private collection system.
Among this unpaid fortune representing thousands of families, we know many primary care parents feel cheated and left to manage their growing children’s needs alone and supposed to pay parents feel burdened. The best interests of the children are seldom recognised.
In 2019, the year of the Federal election, we are asking for these three changes as a starting point:
1. Use all means available to enforcechild support assessments.
The current child support formula does not recognise the real costs of raising children. Compounding that, the amount due to the carer parent is often not paid at all, or is part- or late-paid.
2. Trial a government guaranteed child support as recommended by the 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program.
Governments continue to say that ‘the child support scheme should continue to ensure that parents are responsible for the payment of child support’ but the current debt of $1.5 billion unpaid child support proves that the current child support system is not doing its job and Australian children and their primary care givers are suffering. We need the government to calculate the amount for each family in the trial group, make the payment and collect the debt.
3. Record child support debts on individual credit ratings.
This would support the principles of the Banking Royal Commission and make sure that future lenders know about the debt. It is also a strong incentive for paying child support in full and on time.
Jenny Davidson talks with Terese Edwards, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and Kay Cook, an academic who has done wonderful work analysing the issues with the Child Support system. Click here
In the latest episode of Single Mothers Speak Out, Jenny speaks about the Federal government ParentsNext program with welfare rights advocate (and ParentsNext participant) Ella Buckland.
ParentsNext espouses to increase work readiness for parents of pre-school aged children, mostly women, many of them single mothers. The reality for many of the 75,000 participants, however, has been far from positive, with parents being misinformed, disrespected and stigmatised by participation.
Recently, a friend said she considers me a double parent because I take on a double job of parenting. It’s an odd phrase but from my experience as a migrant mum with a limited support network and a child fully in my care, a ‘double parent’ seems quite appropriate.
I am now finishing my studies with an internship at the Council of Single Mothers and their Children and they are interested in single mothers from diverse backgrounds. I find little research available on the experiences of migrant and refugee single mothers although many have lived in Australia for a long time.
As a migrant single mother and a researcher, I am interested in ways to ensure we get the assistance we need to feel more secure.
How can we, as sole migrant and refugee mothers, get more exposure in policy and public life and how can we make sure that the programs designed to support families include our needs and adequately support us?
Overall migrant parents do a wonderful job dealing with the confusing and demanding financial, emotional and legal struggles that occur in a new country. Sole parents are doubly wonderful as they deal with these and more, often without family or community support.
How do you deal with discrimination and racism in the community or in employment and education? Where do you turn for help if you do not have family? It is hard when we turn to the government system for support and instead feel punished and shamed. Community services mean well but are often not equipped to assist single parents who need interpreters as well as support to understand the health, legal, and financial support systems.
If you have ideas about the issues facing migrant and refugee single mothers and how we might make improvements, or if you are willing to share your stories (good ones and hard ones) as a migrant or refugee single mum in Australia, please get in touch with me, Masha. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 9654 0327
In the 50 year history of Council of Single Mothers and their Children, we have often shared enthusiastically in the celebrations of women, our achievements, and the gradually improving position of women overall.
This year on International Women’s Day we are focussed on the brutality of the past thirteen years for single mother families.
Beginning in 2006 with the Howard government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ changes, new single parent families with a youngest child aged 8 were put on the wildly insufficient Newstart Allowance. This ‘unemployment benefit’ belies the unpaid care work essential with children still under the legal age to be left alone, and the frequently insecure paid work that many women undertake in school hours. Until their children are older, many single mother who are starting a business, studying, caring for aged relatives, repairing the lingering distress from family violence etc. still rely on or require a top-up, from the government social services benefit.
In 2012 as she made her misogyny speech, Prime Minister Gillard completed Howard’s manoeuvre and passed legislation to move all single parents with a youngest child of 8 years and still grandfathered on the Parenting Payment Single, onto Newstart from 1 January 2013. This move meant a drop in income up to $175 per pay for approximately 163,000 single mother families.
In 2014, the Abbott government hurt single parent and other poor families further with the family tax benefit freeze, pensioner education supplement cut, and changes to childcare. In 2016 the ParentsNext program was introduced as a trial and expanded nationally in July 2018, and now encompasses 75,000 participants. 96% of these are women and 19% are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Also in 2018 we saw the additional burden and humiliation of the third party verification of the single parents’ relationship status.
The blows have been coming thick and fast on single mother. The numbers tell the story: since 2013, the rate of poverty in single parent families not in paid employment has risen from 35% to an astonishing 59% (ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2018).
So this year, on International Women’s Day, we are releasing the opening statement made by our CEO Jenny Davidson to the Senate Committee on Community Affairs considering ParentsNext. This highly punitive and discriminatory government program is location based and targets:
Indigenous single parents who receive government benefits and have a 6 months old baby
Non-Indigenous single parents who receive government benefits and have a 12 month old baby
Single parents who have not earned money in the past six months and have a 3 year old child.
The program requires single mothers to jump through hoops to receive benefits essential to feeding their families. They must participate in activities that may not improve their work readiness, and cope with complex reporting requirements and the threat (and reality) of cutting their only income source if they do not comply, or report incorrectly.
This episode is about an individual complaint that Juanita McLaren has put into the UN with support from Terese Edwards of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children. The complaint is based on the optional protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, called CEDAW, which the Australian Government signed in 1983. The complaint submits that the Government’s punitive treatment of single mothers, in particular forcing them to undertake mutual obligations to receive government benefits, is a breach of their human rights obligations.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is happening in New York in March, as it does each year. This is the 63rd session of CSW, and the priority theme this year is “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” Terese and Juanita are headed to CSW for the first time, and Carole is attending as she regularly does.
Our recent survey of 1100 single mothers in Australia found just over half are earning less than $40,000 a year, including 19% with income below than $20,000. Almost half of the 25% of respondents reported working full time said they had difficulties meeting general living costs.
Here we share more on the financial realities facing single mothers, in line with Anti-Poverty Week.
Earlier this week, ACOSS released their Poverty in Australia 2018 Report, with data indicating once again that sole parent families have the highest poverty rate of all family types in Australia, with a massive 32% of such families living below the poverty line (measured based on 50% of median income).
Indeed, poverty in sole parent families is at levels significantly higher than single people, couples or couple families of any age, and has been throughout the past 25 years of economic growth in Australia.
The ACOSS Report clearly defines the sources of this poverty: moving single parents from Parenting Payment Single to the lower Newstart Allowance when their youngest child is 8 is driving poverty, as is having only one wage to cover the ever-increasing costs of living in Australia.
“A major source of child poverty is the high poverty rate (32%) among sole parent families, who must generally rely on a single income.”
ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2018 Report
What the report fails to do is to provide a true insight into the gendered makeup of “sole parent families”.
Eighty-one per cent of single-parent families are headed by a single mother – the vast majority, as the report fleetingly describes in the section dedicated to gender.
Women head 765,000 families in Australia, and about 245,000 women and their children are living in acute poverty. It is amongst single, female-led families that we see the greatest feminisation of poverty in Australia, and the confluence of unpaid caring work, the pay gap and paternalistic government policies. Indeed, the issue is spread across single mothers in most income brackets, who are working, scrimping and going hungry to try to provide for their children on a single income.
In September and October, the Council of Single Mothers and their Children undertook a national survey of single mothers to get a better sense of the financial security of singles mothers, with over 1100 respondents.
While just over half are earning less than $40,000 per year, including 19% with a disturbingly low income of less than $20,000, there is a stark story to be told by those women who are working, are living above the poverty line, and yet are barely making ends meet.
Twenty-five per cent of our survey respondents reported they are working full time, and of these, almost half had difficulties meeting their general living costs in the past 12 months. Seventy-nine per cent of these full-time employed single mothers are concerned or very concerned about their current financial well-being, and 87% are concerned or very concerned about their longer-term financial well-being.
We know the issues these mothers are concerned about – limited superannuation due to time out of the workforce or working part-time caring for children; no ability to save for a deposit to enter the housing market, and other issues. These women are on a trajectory to join the increasing numbers of older, single women facing homelessness.
Right now, however, these women’s primary concern is providing for their children.
We know that for many, this is entirely up to them, as demonstrated by the unpaid child support debt in Australia of $1.2 billion – that largely represents men defaulting on the costs of raising their children. This figure is hugely understated, as is only includes those families on the books of the Child Support Agency; a good number of families have private arrangements for the transfer of child support, which the government blithely assumes is paid in full.
As one survey respondent told us on the impact of a shortage of money:
“We have no insurance, house, care personal, health… none. We go without dental care. There is always stress, sometimes it makes me physically vomit I get so stressed about how to pay and do everything. We don’t eat healthy nutritious meals every night, some meals are replaced with toast or noodles, to stretch out the food.”
There’s a mathematical rationale to this: for a two-parent family, there are 48 hours in any day in which to work, care, parent and rest. In a single parent family, there are only 24 hours to do all those things – work, run a home, parent, ferry kids around and sleep. You can guess which is the first thing to go: sleep, along with any hope of having your own life.
For Anti-Poverty Week this year, Council of Single Mothers and their Children held an event called “Solutions to the entrenched poverty of single mother families”. While we didn’t entirely solve the issue in two hours, many solutions were proposed, some new — such as shifting the meaning of money — others well known, like valuing the unpaid work of parents and carers.
Indeed, the issues that affect single mothers do not affect them in isolation: single mothers need permanent part-time jobs that fit with their family responsibilities, as do other parents, carers and the growing demographic caring for ageing parents. Single parents need more assistance with the costs of education, such as free public transportation and access to extracurricular activities, as do other Health Care Card holders.
One suggestion was that we need a public backlash to make real change happen, and we agree! Single mothers are invaluable members of our community who are raising great kids. They are working hard to provide a good life for their children and they deserve more than grinding poverty and a compromised future for themselves and their children.
Council of Single Mothers and their Children are mobilising single mothers and their allies to take actions, small and large, to achieve a society where single mother families are valued and treated equally and fairly. Join us!
CEO – Council of Single Mothers and their Children
This article was also published by Women’s Agenda. Council of Single Mothers and their Children thank them for their support.