The Social Discourse and Welfare
Whilst doing my research for my most recent blog post, I analysed a range of opinions throughout social media on the topic of contraception and welfare. Naturally, these threads across various pages gathered the opinions of those not on welfare and those who are. Comments on social media give one an insight into the thoughts of a wide and varied demographic. Often thoughts on social media are contained to a particular thread on a particular topic; so it is always interesting to view the differences of opinion from many on that particular subject. This is particularly evident when it is a newspaper forum, or another general page which attracts a diverse range of people. People will group together on opinion and often there are long debates from those for or against a particular opinion. I love reading the opinions of people on social media, as narrative or discourse, gives us a glimpse of the social psyche.
Social discourse is a key element to social change. Many of the comments from people, as per my last blog post, painted those on welfare in a very negative light. In fact, the ones highlighted were of the very strong view that those on welfare ‘should not breed.” The Liberal National Coalition (LNP) Government has a very strong discourse on punitive measures aimed to punish people on welfare and sets this standard, through their unfair cuts to welfare and treatment of jobseekers.
Newspapers and media also seem to slant their stories to the negative. There were many comments highlighting that Sunrise had posted the ‘welfare and contraception’ story three different times on their Facebook page. In my local regional newspaper today, there is an prominent article with the headline “Hard-working Australian culture fading away” which has a 20 year old mechanic front and centre telling people to ‘not cry poor and go out a get a job” and “I don’t believe for a second there’s no work out there”.
This is in spite of the unemployment rate being 6.3% nationally, youth unemployment sitting nationally at 14% nationally and being as high as 29.3% in outback South Australia, 26.7% in south east Tasmania and 21.3% in Cairns. This is also in spite of skills shortages in 2014 identified in specialized and professional fields as external auditor, surveyor, sonographer, phsysiotherapist, midwife, software engineer and construction estimator. The jobs listed as skills shortages are not jobs that would be likely to match young people seeking employment, or unskilled jobseekers. This means that contrary to the social discourse occurring at present, job search is a highly competitive environment and those with little to no skills or experience, or who face any barriers to employment (including sole parenting), will find securing employment very difficult.
This does not even take into account age discrimination or Indigenous unemployment, which sits at 17.2% nationally and the Government’s changes to programs that will greatly affect this group. These changes show blatant changes which target people through race, which are discriminatory as compared to other parts of Australia.
What about Sole Parents?
The blog post I researched most recently discussed the argument that ‘People on welfare should be forced to take contraception.’ Single mothers were certainly a group raised for discussion. In particular, young mothers featured prominently, as did women from certain suburbs in Australia and another prominent single mother group attacked negatively were those ‘assumed to be refugees’ or from an ethnic minority background or non-white people.
Single Parents have only had to seek employment as part of Mutual Obligation since the 2005 – 2006 Howard Budget. This has continued to be evolved by successive ALP Governments since 2007 and remains as a focus for the Abbott Government. There have been calls from ACOSS that the inclusion of single parents in mutual obligation contravenes Human Rights Obligations. I strongly agree with ACOSS, not only for the economic affects outlines, but especially for point 2, which discusses discrimination against women:
The Bill violates the rights of single parents to non-discrimination under Art 2, paragraph 2
of the ICESCR and Art 11(1)(e) of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Since the majority of recipients are
women, they will suffer indirect gender discrimination should the Bill become law. In
addition, sole parent families, identified for special measures due to their greater
vulnerability, will suffer discrimination through the loss of these measures.
As I delved into people’s conversations on social media whilst researching my last blog post, I noticed something quite prominent and thematic with young mothers and their arguments. I was becoming increasingly aware of the amount of young women (single mothers) who felt the need to defend their space in society. These young women felt the need to list every single effort they make to work in paid work, volunteering, job search or furthering their education through study or training. Often, they would write a long list of work and study they were doing at the same time, as well as caring for their child or children.
What this is saying to me, is that young mothers and single others feel the need to ‘reaffirm’ or establish themselves in the eyes of the privileged (those not a single parent) to be deemed worthy or accepted in society. My position is difficult here as I can only view the conversation and not seek clarity or construct any dialogue with these young mothers to further develop understanding; but I feel that these young mothers feel that there are societal pressures that say that being a mother 100% of of the time is not enough as set by the standards of society and in the eyes of those who view them as ‘sole parents.’
One theme that was quite prominent was when young mothers did list the whole range work or study activities they were undertaking as well as motherhood, people congratulated them on their efforts and ‘becoming a productive citizen.’ The comments resonated that being a mother was not being a productive citizen. Raising other little good citizens is being a productive citizen in itself.
I for one second do not take away any single parent’s choice to undertake any activities to better their future for employment etc., The key word there being choice. However, I question the need that there may be mothers who feel they cannot be a mother only, due to the strong social narrative that drives this pressure, which is enabled by the Government view of single parents. Something afforded by privilege to those who have this choice in a partnered relationship. I know many may argue that even women in partnered relationships need to go to work; but if a woman strongly wanted to be at home, they have the choice, through that partnership to adapt their lifestyle, so this can be supported on one wage in many cases. The fact of the matter is single parents do not have this choice even to contemplate, as that second wage is simply not there.
Some of the privileges afforded by those in partnered relationships or single people with no children, who set to condemn single parents are thus:
- Single parents do not have the option to share the workload.
- Single parents often have to do more than partnered parents, as all work, child raising and decision making are their sole responsibility
- Single parents bear the brunt of sole financial responsibility. If they get sick, there is no second wage to fall back on.
- There are forced expectations by the Government of mutual obligation on single mothers or fathers that is not enforced onto partnered mothers or fathers.
- There is a great social stigma still towards, particularly single mothers being a purposeful burden on the system
- Economic burdens, not affording take away, making all food, not affording childcare, or adequate medical care, including dental as compared to middle to upper classes
- There is a great social stigma about child spacing for single parents “they just pop another one out when the youngest turns six” Child spacing is a privilege afforded to partnered parents.
- Single parents have more likely high instances of low self-efficacy and low self-esteem than partnered parents
- Illness is a privilege afforded to those in partnered relationships. A single parent who falls ill still has to maintain all responsibilities
- There are many labor market constraints for single parents, including transport, available education, flexible work hours. In some cases partnered parents may face these barriers, but they have another partner to work with to reduce these barriers.
- Often stigma is also with the ex-wife/ex-partner that if the father is raising them, there is something wrong with the mother, but that is rarely questioned about the father
- Fathers are often perceived as heroes and pitied for abandonment, women are scorned, slut shamed etc.,
- In most cases the onus of blame is placed on the woman in a relationship breakdown.
- Single mothers experience stigma with employment, housing, applying for benefits, and community assistance afforded to most partnered couples (racial and disability discrimination acknowledged)
- Balancing custody and career. Often promotion means more work and more time away from family sole parents, both male and female risk custody if they are not seen to provide enough care an attention to the child/ren through absence to the home. This is intensified if the other parent has another new partner who can does paid work. There is little research if this is more particularly burdensome for single mothers or single fathers. Career and progression is something afforded to parents in a partnered relationship, without the risk of losing custody of their child/ren.
I will break out of the bullet points to direct attention to one that I am most passionate about. I will speak to this for mothers only. I would value input from how single fathers see this in the comments below.
Forced removal of the right to care for children.
Due to the mutual obligations forced upon single mothers by the Government, single parents have no choice but to have another person spend critical and valuable time with their child. They do not have the option that this may be the person they are in an intimate relationship with as a privilege afforded to partnered mothers who desire to return to work and have a stay at home father. Single Mothers are forced to pay strangers to spend critical and valuable time and input in the rearing of their child. Not only does this take away from critical and valuable parenting time, but places an extra financial burden on women as it cuts into money earned from employment.
This also places an additional burden on women fleeing domestic violence relationships and fleeing violent partners. It forces a woman to be engaged in employment (sometimes with no phone contact as enforced by the employer’s rules) and it creates more worry, stress and strain on a woman already experienced heightened anxiety and concern for the safety of herself and her children.
I find this absolutely abhorrent that this choice is taken away from single parents by force, rather than by choice. It takes away one of the most important and most treasured days of a woman’s life by force.
Although the majority of single parents are mothers, single fathers make up 12% of single parents in Australia. Single fathers also face particular burdens based on how society positions gender and parenting, based on the notion that only women are the natural nurturers and men are the breadwinners.
- Single fathers are the loneliest and socially isolated of all types of household situation.
- Single fathers are deemed incompetent by others, due to the ingrained belief that women are the natural caregivers and nurturers.
- As per listed above, it is also unfairly assumed that the father is not the best option for care of the child, but must be by default. Society seeks to lay blame on either the mother primarily, and pities the father, but does not ever assume that this may be an amicable solution or what has been decided as a matter of choice between the former partnered parents.
- Single fathers have generally lower self esteem and depression issues than men in other households
- Affect on single fathers with balancing work choice, decision making, key provisions for the family, restrictions in childcare availability and shift work for many labouring / trades jobs
Gay and Lesbian single parents – there is more of a story to be told.
There is also appears to be an absence of research on single parents from a breakdown of a same sex relationship. Statistics included for single parents are inclusive of gay and lesbian parents as statistics do not specifically also target sexual preference.
There appears to be an abundance of literature on same sex parenting as a dual couple. However, the absence of literature on gay and lesbian single parents, makes for a gap in understanding the full picture of single parents and their lived experiences.
The Howard Government in 2005-2006 budget papers set forth the foundation for including single parents in mutual obligation. Successive ALP Governments since, have not sought to enable single parents by repealing this legislation, but have sought to tighten this legislation and provide even more restrictions and obstacles for single parents.
The Abbott Government’s response is hinged on ‘family values’ but defines this family as the predominantly white, dual parent family, with more than likely Christian values. Often classified as “The traditional family.” This is not representative of all families in Australia.
The Abbott Government has injected 20 million to “strengthen relationships and help improve personal and family well-being—it makes social and economic sense.” Because, you know single parents are a burden on society and a factor for social decline.
The Abbott Government has chosen to fund only Christian Chaplains in schools as a pastoral mechanism. Christian Chaplains would only advocate for traditional heterosexual relationships and traditional forms of family through marriage.
There is a lack of investment from the Abbott Government on Domestic Violence and funding for shelters and other programs for both women and men and an absence of understanding of the need for shelters for men who have experienced domestic violence or intimate partner violence.
There is an agenda of stigmatisation from the Abbott Government for those on welfare, adding to the layers of stigmatisation experienced by single parents, indigenous, the disabled, immigrants, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and people in other minority groups.
Where to from here
If this blog post has resonated with others, I would encourage everyone to write to the Government and to both the ALP and the Greens to advocate to have mutual obligation as a forced measure removed from single parents and be implemented as a voluntary measure only, with no penalties.
One of the reasons behind me writing this blog post, was that I get so disheartened from reading harsh and judgemental comments from those in a position of privilege. The other reason was that I really want people to start assessing their own narrative when it comes to passing judgement of others on welfare.
The Abbott Government through their agenda of stigmatisation has really created a strong narrative to enable and encourage others to stigmatise those on welfare. If you oppose the Abbott Government, but contribute to this stigma by adding your voice, you are really supporting the Abbott Government by becoming a part of their agenda. Their agenda for stigma is strong as it paves the way for even more harsh cuts and unfair treatment of the disadvantage as the discourse becomes more widely sociably acceptable.
“Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.”
Both sides of Government have scapegoated single parents. The ‘grandfathering’ of parenting payment was, I assume expected disappear as the children aged…but somehow didn’t. It then became unfair that some kept their payments and others did not. It was fairer for the Gillard Government to remove the grandfathering…but beyond that there should have been put in place some method and support to get these people the skills they need to earn a good income.
But that never happens…it appears our governments prefer to punish people, not support them out of their poor circumstances. I know it costs money to train people, but it cost money to not have trained people to fill vacancies that require qualifications.
Whether we are talking Health or Education…prevention does not win votes…but punishing people evidently does.
Hi yes, I agree. I have acknowledge both Governments in this blog post and have given no love to either of them.
If I was a single Aboriginal father living in Redfern, living close to the former in-laws and out-laws, with kids aged 2,5,6,8,9,11 and 12, I’d find the government gives me $75,354 per annum or $1445 per week to spend on myself or the kids. And I’d only have to pay $90 per week for my 4 bedroom McMansion to Housing NSW.
Life would be such a struggle.
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And now you have a situation where 603,000 or 17.7% of all children are living in poverty in Australia; Sole parents – at high risk with 33% in poverty in 2012 and 36.8% of all children in poverty were in sole parent households. This is due to the lower levels of employment among sole parent households, especially those with very young children, and the low level of social security payments for these families. (This figures will have increased thanks to the Gillard Governments decision, their own independent committee had the results of the impact of the Howard Government policy on sole parents and they had the opportunity to address this situation instead they will have added to the problem).
And what no one talks about is the children that have reached 18 but are still considered a dependent of their sole parent, who are only entitled to a youth allowance because of this, but for whom the other non custodial parent stops paying child support for… these families are falling threw the cracks, they are losing their homes & it is the children that are suffering as their are no jobs & training options have had funding cut.
All well & good having skills but it does not overcome the problem of NO jobs!!! Furthermore from experience the move to Newstart is not an incentive to work far from it as sole parent working between 15-30 hours is in effect by the time they pay tax, & with the loss of benefit’s in a minimum wage job are working for just over $7 an hour, this figure has not taken into consideration having to pay for childcare or OHSC. While on the fairer PPS there was an incentive to work… the only incentive now for many single parents is indeed to have another child to get back onto the fairer more equatable PPS payment, not Newstart which is 77% below the poverty line & hasn’t had any real increase for over 20 years.
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Can you explain to me in your story how sole parents suffer from domestic violence. I can only think of these sole parents lying to Centrelink about their true domestic situation to scam more money from the taxpayer.
Where have I said they experience domestic violence? Can you please provide the example?
As a single parent I was most distressed to learn of the ALP’s push for single parents to go on NewStart once their children turned 8 (is that right?). I couldn’t believe that the one person forgotten in that push was the welfare of the child. Why isn’t there an acknowledgement of the enormous responsibility in raising loving, healthy children? And the requisite support provided?
The appropriate support is a long-term investment in raising children who are good social citizens.
Placing children at the centre of policy development would make a difference in how welfare is distributed. As you say, if sole parents are given a choice, there is a greater chance of the children growing up to be great adults contributing to society in wonderful ways.
Thanks Trish for spending time to write on this. I enjoy your posts very much.
PS: my son is 25 and is working full-time in IT. I’m proud of him and how he has ‘turned out’ despite being raised by a loony single mum!
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I liked your article Trish. I too was a sole-parent of 3 children for some 17 years, and I know well the shame that one experiences as a result of poverty. That shame somehow translates into guilt. And I clearly remember feeling guilty for buying my children new socks, like I somehow did not have the right, though I had worked really hard to give them everything I could possibly manage. Still, apparently it wasn’t enough to overcome society’s prejudices.
However, I do not feel comfortable with casting this as a Feminist issue. If we do,we really miss the point. After all, it affects both genders. Both males and females are brought up in single-parent households, and are commonly as adversely affected as each other. Fathers also commonly suffer greatly from the deprivation of the company of their children.
If men made up the majority of single-parents (and our laws currently prevent this), the result would be the same. They would suffer the same prejudice. This is a human issue, and has more to do with society’s moral mores, and perhaps the need for a scapegoat.
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Hi Karen Thanks for your feedback. I too do not believe it is purely a feminist issue and I have not addressed it as such. As you will note I researched barriers and hindrances for single fathers as well and mentioned a range of issues which affect both genders. The only part that is specific to mothers, I have noted as such and have asked single fathers to make comment (as a woman, I cannot speak to the lived experiences of fathers, in the absence of research on that particular issue).
Thank you for your kind response Trish. However your article does eventually come down to the defense of women. I believe that the prejudice against fathers is incidental, as is the prejudice against single mothers, if only we could address the real issue of moral prejudice. I can speak to the lived experience of fathers, and not just the father of my own children, but those of others who were close friends. Everybody suffers to some level, via these arrangements.
We need to find a way to stop the suffering of our children, and their parents (both of them) if we hope for a decent society, equal rights etc. Acceptance and kindness would seem a good starting point…and a bit of empathy wouldn’t go astray either. Warm Regards, Karen.
Sorry that you read it that way. I have tried to be as inclusive as possible across all single parent types, including fathers, gay and lesbian and inclusion of indigenous and other minority groups. I do agree that Fathers have specific lived experiences, but that would need to be dedicated to an entire blog post. 87% of single parents are women, so the experiences of women are often the most noted and that is why I specifically made the effort to include the obstacles and disadvantages faced by Fathers as well. There has been approximately 45-50 hours of solid research into this article, so I hope you can appreciate the entire debate is very complex in itself.
Of course I understand the complexity (hopefully), but still I think a forward step is best taken with both genders equally in mind, and at the forefront, the emotional and psychological health of our children. This appears to require the equal input of both Mum and Dad.
What seems to be required is education in general, and early intervention where required. Mums and Dads may not always see eye to eye, but for the most part they are equally valuable. Occasionally of course one or the other strikes out, but I think this is less common than is currently believed to be the case.
Well written article that touches on the intersection of disadvantage within the Australian community. There is a lack of responsibility from government regarding the collection of millions of dollars in unpaid ‘maintenance’ from the non custodial parents. Seeking to put more weight & stress on the custodial parent which as Trish points out is in 88% of cases the woman (cis?). The statistics back sole parents as hard working community members that are mostly in some form of part time work or study. Even the term sole parent is problematic, reinforcing the assumption that responsibility lies with the custodial parent, usually the mother. Both sides of government have contributed to the rise of the traditional family at the demise of any family that is not considered to be traditional. The largest homeless sector is that of older women, who have been single mothers.
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