New data, released Monday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), paints a grim picture for single parents in Australia. The ABS found 63 percent single parents with a child under four years old were jobless in June 2015.
Across all one-parent families in Australia, with dependent kids up to 24 years old, the jobless rate averages out to be a bit lower—but it's still one in three. With 15 percent of families in the country (970,800) having only one parent, there are a lot of people affected. As the most recent release of the national HILDA survey shows, between 18 and 23 percent of lone parents are falling below the poverty line.
Breaking down the numbers, it's clear a single parent is more likely to be jobless when their child is younger. The ABS estimates 64 percent of single-parent families with a child under four years old didn't have a job, which drops to 36.5 percent when the child turns five.
Single mothers are also far more likely to be jobless than single fathers. When their children are under four years old, only 14.01 percent of single mums had a full-time job versus 51.2 percent of dads. Although the employment rate improves as their children get older—peaking at 44.9 percent when their between 15 and 24 years old—single mums are never able to close the gap with single fathers, whose full-time employment rate is basically in line with the broader labour force participation rate.
This is concerning, given the fact that somewhere between 84 and 88 percent of lone parent families in Australia are single mother homes.
Jenny Davidson is CEO of the Council of Single Mothers and Their Children Victoria. She says last year the service got more than 2,000 contacts from single mothers in the state looking for help. The biggest issue? Financial stress.
This is a complex problem, Davidson explains, driven by everything from falling housing affordability and rising income insecurity, to lack of affordable childcare, and even financial abuse by ex-spouses, like unpaid child support. "The Australian child support debt is above a billion dollars, and that doesn't even include privately-arranged debt agreements," she notes. "Basically, half of all child support payments are either paid late, or not at all."
There's also the issue that very few jobs are willing to be flexible for single mothers—to allow them to work within school hours or job share with others—and the ones that do are likely to be casual, offering no sick leave to look after a child who's home from school.
"It's an absolute misconception that single mothers are lazy and living off welfare... they are being the parent, and being the income earner," Davidson says. "There's no lack of motivation—single mothers want the best life for their children."
Davidson says we are at a watershed moment for this issue, with sweeping changes to benefits, which were proposed in this year's Budget, about to be voted on in parliament. If they are voted in, they situation for single mums in Australia could worsen.
Front and centre is the ending of the Energy Supplement, which offers $4 a week to those on Newstart to cover the costs of utilities. The Turnbull Government wants to redirect this money into funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
"These families are already so close to the margins, they are only just making it," Davidson says. She explains that if a single mother is working four days a week, 90 percent of their income goes straight to taxes or supporting their children—a situation where $4 a week makes a difference.
"Right now, it's just not economically viable for women to work four days a week," Davidson says. "I think that the emphasis needs to be on the fact that parenting is valid work. Women want to work but they need work that fits around their family responsibilities."
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