En Passant is an excellent Australian blog I just found. Note how "reforms" in child support and child custody/visitation, combined with cutbacks in public benefits, have increased poverty in single-mother households over the past four years.
SINGLE MOTHERS PROTEST AGAINST POVERTY
Posted by John, April 22nd, 2010 - under Fighting back, Poverty, Single mothers.
From Helen Said, single mother activist
Single mothers are being singled out for poverty.
The Council of Single Mothers and their Children’s Action Group is planning a Protest Against Poverty at 11 am on Thursday 6th May in the Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, beside the “big (empty!) purse”. The protest coincides with Mothers Day shopping madness and participants can dress for the theme “Mothers Day breakfast in bed.” Some single mothers plan to shake the empty breakfast tray and bang pots and pans outside exclusive Bourke Street department stores.
Welfare to Work legislation and changes to the Child Support Payment formula, introduced by the Howard Government in 2006, have impoverished many single mother families. Under Welfare to Work, women who separated from their partners after July 2006 are put on New Start rather than Parenting Payment and classed as “Job Seekers with a part time work requirement”. New Start is a lesser payment with a lower earning threshold before payments start being reduced.
As “Job Seekers”, single mothers are forced to either work or search for work 52 weeks of the year, even if they satisfy Centrelink work requirements. There are no aftercare or holiday programs for secondary school children, which means that children as young as eleven are being forced to fend for themselves whilst Mum is pressured to work, under threat of losing her benefits. If a single mother doesn’t find a permanent job with paid holiday breaks it is technically illegal for her to take a holiday with her children. Some Centrelink officials even tell mothers to apply for jobs in country towns from their camping tents!
The only way a single mother on income support can take a break from the part time work/jobsearch treadmill, for her own health and wellbeing, is to apply for an exemption, usually by getting a doctor to declare that she is suffering from an anxiety related medical condition. My own observation as an activist, witnessing the increased pressures on single mothers, is that the “happy housewife pills” of the 1960’s are set to become the “post-separation medication” of the new century.
New Child Support rules reduce the amount of money single mothers receive from their children’s fathers if the children spend increased time with Dad. This has led to a rash of vindictive court cases where disinterested and even violent fathers vie for increased contact with their children to reduce their Child Support bills, even if they don’t contribute to child rearing expenses.
Worse still, the court process now favours granting increased access to fathers, through regarding the safety of the child, and the right of the child to spend time with both parents, as equally paramount. Thus Family Court mediators and psychologists often pressure women to grant more access to fathers rather than making the child’s safety absolutely paramount. One Anglo-Australian child psychologist even brushed aside an Islamic divorcee’s concerns about sending her children to their violent father by quoting from the Koran, in her report to the Family Court, to excuse a man who beats his wife. There are now penalties for mothers who cannot prove assertions of violence against their former partners. Government reports indicate that this system has left more children at risk, but there is unlikely to be any legislative changes before the next election.
All of these changes have increased the amount of litigation and Centrelink harassment newly separated single mothers face, placed our children at risk and drastically lowered our living standards. I estimate that my own family is $1000 per month worse off because of this Howard Government legislation, the “Work Choices” for single mothers. ACOSS now describes single mothers and our children as “Australia’s poorest families” and estimates that half of all single mother families seek assistance in paying utilities bills. Since the introduction of Welfare to Work, The Council of Single Mothers and their Children has noted a sharp increase in demand for food vouchers, assistance with back to school expenses and shelter for homeless families.
Welfare to Work treats single mothers as a reserve army of labour, forcing us to take up menial jobs during labour shortages and granting us “retraining opportunities” when times are tough. Through classifying single mothers as Job Seekers, the nexus between single mother benefits and pension status has been all but broken, hence the government’s decision to deny single mothers the last pension increase in favour of these elusive “retraining opportunities”.
My own experience of such “retraining”, after spending ten years at home with a special needs child, was a seven week “taster course” in teachers aide training accompanied by an empty promise of a traineeship, when in fact underfunded schools are forced to advertise that “junior wages apply” and reject older applicants. After lobbying from unemployed students, the “taster course” was then followed by the offer of a free Cert III course from the Australian Education Industry Centre, which itself received no government funding, and consequently went into receivership half way through our course. This left many single mothers, older job seekers, disabled job seekers and new immigrants in limbo, back at the mercy of the Centrelink sausage machine.
As the Rudd Government has retained this punitive legislation, and hasn’t addressed our retraining needs, single mothers are now in a desperate financial situation. We have been left with no choice but to take to the streets and protest against this government’s policies during an election year.