This year as my son approaches his eighth birthday, we face a future of imminent poverty and homelessness. As a mother I have never felt less hope or more despair.
I have been a sole parent since my son’s father abandoned us when I was pregnant. Unlike many single mothers, we have not had shared parenting arrangements or financial support from his father.
I have been the full-time sole parent of my child, without help from family or friends.
I have relied on the Parenting Payment Single since my son was born, which has been barely enough for us to survive on at $868/fortnight given the increasingly high cost of living. It was only the addition of the full Coronavirus Supplement that lifted sole parent mums and their children above the poverty line. The tapered off supplement ended on 30 March 2021.
In two months, we will lose $200 per fortnight when my son turns eight years old – the age when all single parents are shunted onto the even stingier JobSeeker Payment.
In 2006, the Howard Government stopped single mothers receiving the Parenting Payment Single once their children turned eight; however, they grandfathered single parents already receiving the payment who had older children so they could keep receiving it until their children turned 16. Surprisingly, it was Julia Gillard as Prime Minister who, despite heavy lobbying, moved this grandfathered group off Parenting Payment Single, and single parent families predominantly headed by women have been sinking deeper into poverty ever since.
The brutally low JobSeeker Payment is barely enough for a young adult to live on (at $44/day), and yet a sole parent and child are thrown onto this low Centrelink payment (slightly adjusted to $47/day) without any regard for our survival.
The assumption of the policy makers is that it’s high time single mothers got a paid job, now that our child is in school. But with our caring responsibility we can’t take on full-time jobs or those with irregular hours. I have been searching for work that could be done in school hours, and it is next to impossible to find.
Our situation is even more complex as my young son has health issues, multiple food allergies and asthma. He had anaphylaxis before he turned one, and has been a regular patient at the Royal Children’s Hospital. He is often at home unwell from school, and this makes looking for outside employment very difficult. None of this is considered by Centrelink and the Government that believes it is a level playing field for everyone. The ruthless economic model that the Government follows has so blinkered Australians that many people cannot imagine what it is like to be in this position and even believe that it’s our fault if we need help.
My greatest fear is that soon my son and I will be forced to leave the only home he has ever known, where we have been fortunate to live with very minimal rent in the past.
No one on income support payments can afford to pay market value rent, and real estate agents will not put forward applicants whose only source of income is a Centrelink Payment.
I’ve looked at what’s available and the most basic two bedroom flat with no backyard is at least $350/week. The most Rent Assistance we can receive is $80/week. That would leave us without enough money for food and all our expenses.
I’ve applied for social housing. I’ve been told by several agencies that the wait list is fifteen years in Melbourne, and six years on the priority list. One heartless government worker told me that my son and I will simply have to join the thousands of homeless people.
A well-functioning society recognises that we are all interdependent and none of us can flourish isolated and abandoned, and that the utmost help needs to be given to low-income families so that these children, who are our future, have the best chance of a healthy and dignified upbringing.
What would really help us, and other sole parents struggling to survive, is for us to be able to stay on the Parenting Payment Single until our children turn 16 years old at an amount we can live on, and increasing the ridiculously low Rent Assistance to be more in line with market value rental prices.
And so, as Mother’s Day promises a little indulgence and at least a token of support for many women with partners, consider the hidden plight of sole parent mums who are unacknowledged and alone, who live in fear of how they can provide a roof over their child’s head and what the future will bring in this affluent country that does not seem to care about us and our precious children.
Genevieve is a sole parent living in Melbourne. She is known to Women’s Agenda and has requested that her surname be withheld.