Dear Julia Gillard,
I am one of the many single parents who will be forced onto Newstart Allowance on January 1, 2013.
I am the sole parent of two children, 17 and 10, and I am currently in my fourth year of a psychology degree, something I have worked extremely hard to achieve whilst raising two children on my own. However, given that I will soon be forced to live on $533 a fortnight, (which is less than the cost of my rent) I must accept that I will not be able to complete the final year of my degree and that I must instead go out and try to find a job, any job, for which I am overqualified, that will enable us all to survive.
As well as losing $122 a week of my parenting payment, I will also lose the $64 a fortnight education supplement that is supposed to help with the costs of text books. That $64 might seem irrelevant to someone like you, and granted it isn't much of an incentive to enrol at university, but it has enabled me to buy the ridiculously overpriced text- books that are not included in the ridiculously overpriced school fees.
I'm not sure if you have given any real thought as to what these new cost saving measures will mean to women like me, and if you have then you should be ashamed of yourself as a Prime Minister and as a woman.
I live in a rural area where there are very few jobs available and even less that will employ staff solely during school hours. Even if I could afford it, there is no after school care at my daughter's school and the bus does not take her all the way home, which means that I must meet her at the bus stop in the middle of a busy highway at 3.25 pm.
She is 10 years old and not old enough to walk the 25 minute walk along a bustling, two-lane highway. It's bad enough that I will be forced to give up my studies in order to house and feed my children, but in areas where unemployment and rents are high, women like me will have no choice but to live on the Newstart Allowance and to go without basic necessities.
In my case, I will need to move into more affordable housing which may prove impossible given that the cheapest three bedroom house in a 20 km radius of my children's school is $300 a week. Sharing a room with my children in a one bedroom flat or pitching a tent in the Byron Bay caravan-park may actually be the only alternative.
How is that you can justify giving single people with no dependant children the same amount of money that will be given to sole parents with 1, 2, 3, 4 children? Do you have any idea what it costs to raise a child? My children have had to go without many things that two parent families can afford and there have been many times over the course of the last 4 years where I have seriously considered dropping out of uni to take a waitressing or cleaning job in order to meet the weekly demands.
I have persevered because I want to show my children that education is important and that if you work hard you can achieve anything. Thanks to you, that decision has now been made for me and the blood, sweat and tears have all been a massive waste of time. I'll be sending you my HECS bill if that's okay.
You recently spoke in the Parliament about the tyranny of sexism and misogyny.
On Q&A last fortnight, Bill Shorten also spoke about a sexist and misogynistic Coalition and he explained how Labor are working to empower and support women in the workforce. And yet under your new legislation, women who would otherwise have had the opportunity to get an education and contribute something of value to the workforce will now be forced into low wage, low skill jobs just to survive.
Freezing women out of education opportunities because they will be forced to work full time in order to supplement Newstart Allowance is sexist and misogynistic and depriving those women of the pensioner education supplement just worsens the blow.
Mr. Shorten defended the new legislation by saying that women should be empowered to rejoin the workforce. He said that the best way we can support women is to return them to work. What he failed to acknowledge is that under the current legislation, which was introduced by John Howard, single parents are required to engage in 15 hours of paid work per week to meet their parenting payment requirements.
Those of us who are studying full time are exempt (and rightfully so) from meeting those requirements. The difference between the current legislation and Labor's proposed changes is that sole parents are able to strike a balance between work and family. They are able to achieve an education that will better enable them to return to the workforce in a meaningful way and to earn a good income that will allow them to support their families. More importantly, they are on track to break the cycle of welfare altogether.
Forcing sole parents onto Newstart will not tackle the problem of welfare dependancy, in fact it will only cause greater long term socio-economic problems. Parenting payment currently enables sole parents to earn $167 a fortnight before they lose 40 cents in the dollar. Newstart decreases that threshold to $31.50 a week. If you genuinely want ‘women’ to get back to work then why make it damn near impossible for them to do so?
You should be raising the single parenting payment to elevate single parents (predominately women) out of the poverty cycle and give more support to single parents undertaking study - not less. And you should be making exemptions for women living in rural areas where child care is scarce and work opportunities virtually non existent. If women are not able to find work under your new legislation then they will be forced into dire living situations through no fault of their own. Which leads me to my next question - where exactly are all of these new jobs coming from? Because there has certainly been no mention in the Parliament of that.
It may surprise you to learn that most women do not choose to become single parents. But no matter how hard it gets and no matter how much we might struggle, we hold our heads high and raise our children without question or complaint and with absolute love and dedication. So thank you for your passionate speech in the Parliament and for sticking it to Tony Abbott on issues like sexism and women's rights.
But just remember that it was you who took away these women's rights; women who already do it tougher than most, women who deserve the chance to raise their children without fear of homelessness and starvation, women who deserve a chance at an education, women who are raising the next generation, women who don't deserve to be punished just because they are women, and women whom your party is supposed to represent.