The petition, started by former Greens’ advisor Ella Buckland, has so far garnered 39,305 signatures and follows a Senate inquiry report last week which suggested the contentious welfare program was inflicting “anxiety, stress and harm” upon many of its 70,000 participants–approximately 96% of whom are women, including around 10,000 Indigenous women.
A compliance-based welfare program, ParentsNext is compulsory for parents receiving government subsidies. It purports to provide early intervention assistance to parents with children as young as six months and to help parents identify and achieve specific education and employment goals– supporting them back into the workforce.
Indeed, the overarching principle of ParentsNext is strong, but where it falls short is in its execution.
Making the attendance of activities and appointments (like story time and play group) mandatory and discontinuing payments from Centrelink if these measures aren’t met puts unnecessary strain on many women who are already buckling under pressure.
A single mother, Buckland accuses ParentsNext of unfairly disadvantaging and humiliating women with young children– particularly sole parents like herself.
“Many sole parents are trapped by the system,” she writes. “They have no support from the other parent. The Child Support system is flawed so a lot of absent parents can get out of paying any money towards the wellbeing of their child. Interestingly it is the wealthy absent parents who are most successful at hiding money.”
Buckland suggests that the State abandons these women to live in poverty yet expects them to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.
“Most parents do this willingly, however to be told your payments will be cut ‘if you don’t take your child to story time’ is pretty stressful. Most sole and single parents are just coping already,” she says.
Likewise, the program implies a level of disinclination in women pursuing work post leave; failing to take into account the lack of real employment opportunities for women and the structural barriers that continue to persist.
A single mother for instance, may require not only a job that supports her family in their day to day lives but also something that covers childcare costs and allows her to work flexibly or part-time.
If she’s a parent of a child with special needs or has other caring responsibilities to contend with, or a persisting health issue, the challenge increases.
In truth, how many opportunities exist for women like this?
Additionally, Buckland notes that ParentsNext fails to recognise and value the unpaid labour that parents (mostly women) are contributing.
“The politicians say they are ‘helping mums return to work’ but what’s really happening is that the unpaid work these women already do is being undervalued. Worse than that it’s being construed as ‘dole bludging’”, she writes.
Last year, a government-commissioned study showed Victorian women (and likely Australian women more broadly) were doing 63.2 per cent of unpaid work – about 1.7 times that of men.
This unpaid labour was costed at a whopping $205 billion a year according to Deloitte Access Economics which was commissioned to produce the study.
These complexities were not worked into the existing ParentsNext framework, and as such, the policy requires urgent attention.
Welfare body, Acoss called for an end to the ParentsNext last week, saying: “The harsh reality of this program is completely out of step with the needs of struggling families and community expectations.”
Labor has promised to “overhaul the program and put in place a new approach” should it be elected to government later this year.