Sole parents like myself are at the frontline of the cost of living crisis. Will Albanese right the wrongs of his predecessors?
Each year life gets harder for the millions of Australians relying on welfare payments to survive, many of whom are now staring down poverty and homelessness thanks to the cost of living crisis.
Year after year we hear calls to lift government spending to create an adequate safety net for those doing it tough. Year after year we hear the same excuses – not now, try again next year.
Sole parents like myself are at the frontline of this crisis.
Related: Majority of Australians on jobseeker and parenting payments live in poverty, study finds
With one in six Australian children growing up in poverty, it was hard to hear the news that the government plans to spend $368bn over 30 years on nuclear submarines.
Earlier this month, the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce recommended the single-parent payment be extended to families with children up to 16 years old. It was under the former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard that the payment was cut off to parents once their youngest child turned eight, pushing many sole-parent families below the poverty line.
I have written to the treasurer urging the government to increase support for sole parents. But the only response I have received so far is from someone inside the Department of Social Services assuring me that all income support payments are increased in line with the consumer price index. But this adjustment only amounts to an extra $1.77 a day. I was also told that rent assistance was not intended to cover the full cost of a private rental. But is the government aware of how low rent assistance is? (It’s $92 a week maximum for a single parent with one or two dependent children compared with well over $350 a week for a basic two-bedroom unit in Melbourne.)
Such cognitive dissonance and disdain from highly paid bureaucrats – themselves completely funded by taxpayers – highlights the contempt held by mainstream Australia towards those doing it the hardest.
So I write this in hope that it will reach the treasurer and prime minister, unlike my emails.
I want them to know that many sole parents have left abusive partners. Some of us have been ostracised by our own family and deal with complex traumas, only to end up living under enormous stress without any support. Sole parents – distinct from single parents – do not have shared parenting arrangements or substantial child support. We are often looking after children with serious chronic illnesses or struggling with our own health issues – or both. Sole parents devote their lives to caring for their children and yet we continue to be overlooked – not only by society but our own government.
I want the treasurer to know there are ways he can improve the lives of low-income sole-parent families who, as the cost of living soars, are facing homelessness and poverty at an alarming rate.
These include, but are not limited to: prioritising public and social housing for sole parent families so that the threat of homelessness is not a reality for mums and their kids; increasing rent assistance in line with current rental prices; capping rental prices so that families on low incomes are not having to pay more than 30% of their income on rent; reinstating the parenting payment single for sole-parent families with children up to 16 years of age; and increasing jobseeker and other payments for sole parents.
Related: My life has become a series of painful choices as the cost of living pushes me closer to poverty | Andrea Clarke
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, grew up in a single-parent household and as a minister didn’t agree with the changes made to single-parent payment under Gillard at the time. Will he now right the wrongs of his predecessors? Will he stand up for low-income sole parent families who through no fault of their own are being driven into a life of poverty and homelessness? Will he give the children of sole-parent families hope for the future so that they too can have the chance to live their best lives and achieve great heights?
Or will the government use the subs deal as an excuse not to lift sole-parent families out of poverty? Will the government talk about jobs for future generations while ignoring the plight of children from families who are living below the poverty line and facing homelessness?
Will the federal government scrimp on those most in need in preference of a few nuclear submarines?
Genevieve O’Connell is a sole parent living in Melbourne