Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand recently launched its latest research, ‘Outside systems control my life’ The experience of single mothers on Welfare to Work, which examines the lived experience of 26 single mothers subject to the provisions of the Welfare to Work policy and puts a human face to this reform.
“Welfare to Work has increased people’s obligations to receive income support,” said Stella Avramopoulos, CEO Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, who launched the report at the Australian Council of Social Service conference recently.
“Policy changes were framed as a way to raise employment participation, self-reliance and financial security with little regard for the challenges that families, especially single-parent families, face.”
Good Shepherd says their research shows Welfare to Work is not achieving its aims and, in most cases, is increasing women’s financial insecurity.
“None of the women in our study were assisted with finding work, except one person who took on a short-term, part-time role,” said Ms Avramopoulos.
“Jobactive providers were unable to link women with employment that matched their experience and skills or support their long-term career goals and aspirations.
“Nearly all participants reported having their payments cut due to negligence or poor communication between their jobactive provider and Centrelink, or due to inconsistent policy interpretation. Amanda, a single mother of two, said, ‘I’m always on the brink of being cut off because they keep changing their minds about whether I’m meeting my obligations or not’.”
Several participants reported that their caring responsibilities were not understood or valued by jobactive providers, particularly in relation to casual and contract work and the difficulty in finding child care. The essential unpaid work of parenting is made invisible, while the system is unable to recognise complex individual circumstances.
The report showed that the highly punitive nature of Welfare to Work meant the single mothers in the study were hypervigilant to ensure they remained compliant. However, this excessive self-policing kept them from attending activities that could improve their long-term financial security such as starting a small business, continuing their education or starting in a part-time position in exchange for the “tick and flick” model of compliance that was imposed on them by their provider.
Ms Avramopoulos said Welfare to Work is situated within a suite of other policies that negatively impact on women.
“This includes the difficulties women face in accessing child support payments, their low superannuation balances, the gender pay gap and workplace norms that, for career-oriented positions, expect long hours.”
“Placing tight restrictions on welfare payments is bad economics,” Ms Avramopoulos said. “This research mirrors findings in the UK that show welfare conditionality is largely ineffective. The little savings the Australian Government makes by reducing income support is lost through an expensive administrative system ($7.3 billion over five years) that delivers poor job outcomes, increases the poverty rate of the most vulnerable people, impacts mental health and creates serious barriers to employment and social connection.”
“A more effective model would be to pay bonuses directly to job seekers when they attain a significant milestone and to ensure income support payments are sufficient to cover basic costs. Raising the rate of both Newstart and Parent Payment Single, and indexing them to the minimum wage, would do more towards breaking the cycle of poverty for single mother-headed households.”
This article is taken from a statement issued by Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand. See the full statement on their website.