Single-parenting payments slashed – but to what end?

ONE local mother says changes to parenting assistance that moved tens of thousands of parents onto reduced payments will have “absolutely huge” ramifications.

Under the changes, which came into effect on Tuesday, all eligible single parents move from the parenting payment onto Newstart when their youngest child turns eight.

Partnered parents are not exempt either, and move onto Newstart when their youngest child turns six.

Tamworth woman Debra Phelps, a single mother to 13-year-old Sarah, has had her assistance reduced by some $130 per fortnight.

The maximum Newstart allowance for a single parent is $131 less per fortnight than the maximum parenting payment, and the income that can be earnt before assistance is slashed or cut altogether is also lower.

Family and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said the changes aimed to get more people back into the workforce and when first introduced for those coming onto the payment in 2006, saw more single parents become employed.

Ms Phelps said while some questioned why such parents simply didn’t get a job, the issue was not so black and white.

She said there were not always jobs to be had, there was competition for those that were available, and when starting a new job, many people began on a casual basis.

To find and keep a job people needed to afford a car and petrol, she said, and often after-school and vacation care as well.

“What if your child gets sick? What if your child gets chicken pox and you have to take two weeks off work?” Ms Phelps said.

The increasing cost of living was also a concern, she said.

She criticised the government for the lack of warning, saying people would be better off if they had been given more time to prepare.

Ms Macklin said the trebling of the tax-free threshold, the introduction of paid parental leave, and family payments for teenagers had helped low-income families.

But Ms Phelps believed the changes would still see more poverty, more crime, and more children in care.

She was retrenched from her job in children’s contact services shortly before Christmas.

Ms Phelps told The Leader she was lucky and found another, but it was still only casual and what she earned just covered the money that was cut from her payments.

She said she had phone and electricity bills totalling nearly $700 to pay, as well as a car loan.

“At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get food,” Ms Phelps said.

St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief executive John Falzon last year said the Newstart payment was too low to live on.

“Life on this payment is a daily battle waged from below the poverty line and must be increased as a matter of urgency,” Dr Falzon said.

“As it stands, the rate of the Newstart allowance acts as a barrier to participation.

“When you can’t afford the necessities of life it becomes so much harder to find work.”

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