Doing the Heavy Lifting: Federal budget targets those who can least afford it
Previous blog posts have reflected on the severity of the Federal Budget cuts. One of the groups that will be disproportionately impacted is single mothers and their children, with cuts to payments as well as other supports.
In this post*, Tenar Dwyer from the Council for Single Mothers and their Children responds to the budget from her organisations perspective.
The federal government delivered a Budget that they insist is an essential remedy to the massive financial mess left to them by the previous Labor government.
Regardless of whether this is true or not (and all evidence points to, not!) what is clear is most of the ‘heavy lifting’ the government says is needed to get the economy back on track will be done by those who can least afford it.
Changes to payments for families
Family payments are set to undergo a two-year freeze, meaning payments will stagnate against CPI increases and the Pensioner Education Supplement will be abolished, making it virtually impossible for single mothers to afford to undertake higher education.
The introduction of a $750 annual supplement for each child aged between six and 12 years (payable to single parents receiving the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A) will do little to offset the losses single parents experience when they move from parenting payments to Newstart Allowance.
Where previously the earning threshold for Family Tax Benefit Part B was set as high as $150,000 we will now see this payment cut out at $100,000 and only be paid until a child turns six. Low-income single parents will get some reprieve from this, with payment extended until the child turns 12, however single parents currently receive Family Tax Benefit Part B until their child turns 18 so this change represent a loss of around $115 per fortnight for thousands of single parents.
Introduction of Medicare co-payment fee
The introduction of the $7 Medicare co-payment fee for GP and non emergency hospital visits may seem like a small amount to people earning a decent wage, but many single mothers and low income earners don’t have $7 in their budget to spare. CSMC hears from single mothers who tell us they already don’t have enough money to cover the basic essentials and going to the doctor will now become an unaffordable ‘luxury’.
For single mothers, low income earners and vulnerable older Australians, who are already struggling to meet the basic costs of living, this fee is likely to mean a delay in visiting the doctor, potentially exposing them to significant negative health outcomes over the long term.
The most disturbing aspects of the Budget however, are the measures targeting young Australians, many who are children of struggling single mothers and low-income families.
The eligibility age for Newstart will now rise to 24 and access to income support will only be granted for 6 months out of every year for anyone under 30 years of age unless otherwise exempt. Eligibility for Disability Allowance will also be tightened for anyone aged 29 or younger and assessments to determine ongoing eligibility will increase.
Youth unemployment is double the rate of unemployment for the general population but the coalition’s answer to tackling this concerning issue is to create a new underclass and drive a generation of young Australians into poverty.
This is a policy that appears to be aimed at pushing down wages. If the choice comes down to starving or accepting $9.00 or less per hour most people will choose not to starve. With housing costs at record highs and cost of living increases rising beyond the capacity of low income earners to keep up however, cutting people off payments and potentially lowering wages will lead to even more widespread poverty and homelessness among our young and vulnerable.
Cuts to education
Cuts to education funding are a blow for single parents and the pulling back from Gonski reforms will hurt our kids. The school kids bonus will also go leaving more families struggling with the costs of their children’s education.
School costs are already putting pressure on many parents, especially single mothers who, (after paying for rent, food and basic utilities) are left with little for extras. These mothers are already going without to ensure their children receive a decent education.
A government truly committed to growth and stability would recognise investing in education is one of the most important things it can do to secure our economic future. In a country as wealthy as ours, receiving a high standard of education should be every child’s right, but access to quality education is viewed as luxury to be granted only to those who can afford it.
Strangely, while taking to the boot to our children’s education, the Abbott government has seen fit to increased funding for Chaplains to deliver religious education in our schools. The money being spent to increase religious participation would be better spent on helping poor families meet the cost of education.
This Budget is clearly the fruit of an ideology where poverty is viewed as a moral failing of the individual; yet this ideology is one that fails to recognise its own perverse role in creating systems that entrench poverty, ensuring certain groups remain trapped by circumstances beyond their power to control.
Posted by Tanya Corrie
*This is cross-posted with permission from CSMC's response to the budget from http://csmc.org.au/2014/05/2014-federal-budget-targets-those-who-can-least-afford-it/