The recently released ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2016 report tells us what we already know: lone parents, 84% of whom are single mothers, have the highest prevalence of poverty of all family types, and have done for long time.
In fact, the report tells us that one third of lone parent families (34%) are living below the poverty line of 50% of the medium income. This means that 41% of children in lone parent families are in poverty (compared with 12.5% of children in couple households), an increase over the past 10 years (or more).
“In single-parent families, four children in ten now live in poverty. After 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth, we can do better than this!” states David Morawetz in the report.
This leads to the truly pertinent questions: Why is this situation so bad, and what can we do to reduce the structural disadvantage that single mothers face?
The ACOSS Report begins to address the question of why. They show that lone parents experience more poverty due to their lower levels of employment, triggered by the undiluted responsibilities they shoulder which in turn restrict employment choices and options. The latest HILDA report reinforces that this inability to secure suitable, reliable work results in high levels of poverty and welfare reliance.
We know this at CSMC: Single mothers want to work, and do work however, there are not enough family friendly jobs which sole parents desperately want and need. We want school hour jobs, job share positions, jobs which can help us still be parents to our children, and accessible and affordable childcare.
The casualisation of the workforce has taken a terrible toll on women who use our services, with steadily increasing underemployment and increasingly unreliable incomes. Unaffordable housing is another trigger of poverty, with a significant number of our service users paying 55% or more of their limited income on housing. This leaves little for groceries, utilities and school expenses, and nothing for recreational activities or holidays, which just don’t happen in low income single mother families.
The situation is dire for these families and the children growing up in them. In amongst our prosperous society, we have a cluster of disadvantage that has proven stubborn. And no, Prime Minister, making the welfare system more punitive will not give Newstart recipients great incentives to get jobs that simply are not out there. Without adequate support, be it extended family, childcare and after school care, flexible employers or part-time school hour jobs, single mothers trying to support their family on the woefully inadequate Newstart payments will not see an uptake in employment by raising expectations and tightening regulations. Increasing financial penalties will only further embed these families in poverty.
So, what can we do?
This is the question that the Council of Single Mothers and their Children will be examining over the next months as we undertake strategic planning to set our direction for the next few years. With our specialist knowledge, fever for change and limited resources, what can WE do to better support single mothers and assist them to provide the best possible future for their children, as we know they want to.
If you would care to feed into this process, I’d love to hear from you. Email me with any ideas or suggestions – firstname.lastname@example.org
Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) Poverty in Australia 2016, October 2016
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey: Selected Finding from Waves 1 to 12, July 2016
ABC News, Janda, Michael Unemployment rate only telling half the labour market story 17 Oct 2016
ABC News, Norman, Jane Expectation on welfare recipients ‘miserably low’ as Government seeks to impose tighter regulations, 24 October 2016
The Guardian, Falzon, John Opinion: Australia does not have a welfare problem. We have a poverty problem, 20 September 2016