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Causal vs Casual relationships in single mother households, Violence, Poverty

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Dear Silent Visitors,  

 

I have some more news for you.  Actually, this is over 4 years old in Australia, but apparently news to large sectors of America (North, USA):

 

 

UNLIKE  Family Violence Prevention Fund, or, say,

 

White House.Gov (Issues – Family)

 

 

Australia actually USES the word “mothers” in conjunction with the words “Families” in a public forum.

 

 

When I saw, I was so excited, I had to post it.  

 

I have also some more initials for you:

 

NCSMC 

 

 

 

 

(Australia: 2005, NCSMC, Inc. writes SCFHS, Gov. (Say, Huh?)

 

http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fhs/reports.htm

 

 

22 April 2005 

SUBMISSION NO. 108 

AUTHORISED: 9 2OS~QS I 

Committee Secretariat 

Standing Committee on Family and Human Services 

Parliament House 

CANBERRA ACT 2600 

fhs.reps@aph.gov. au 

 

Dear Secretariat, 

 

Please find attached the submission of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children to 

the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Balancing Work and Family. 

 

This submission specifically addresses the second term of reference in relation to single mothers. In 

particular, we would like to draw to the committee’s attention how experiences of violence impact 

on single mothers’ transitions from welfare to paid employment. We note that this is an area that is 

largely unexplored and urge the committee to consider the need to rectify this. 

NCSMC would welcome the opportunity to make oral submissions to the Secretariat in support of 

this submission. 

 

If you have any need for further information with respect to the issues raised, please contact myself 

or the Executive Officer, Jac Taylor. 

 

Yours sincerely, 

Dr Elspeth Mclnnes 

Convenor 

 

NCSMC National Council of Single Mothers and their Children Inc. 


220 Victoria Square Tarndanyangga Adelaide SA 5000 Ph: 0882262505 Fax: 0882262509 

ncsmc~ncsmc.orc.au http://www.ncsmc.org.au 

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About NCSMC 

The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children Incorporated was formed in 1973 to 

advocate for the rights and interests of single mothers and their children to the benefit of all sole 

parent families, including single father families. 

NCSMC formed to focus on single mothers’ interests at a time when women who were pregnant 

outside marriage were expected to give up their children for adoption by couple families and there 

was no income support for parents raising children alone. Today most single mothers are women 

who have separated from a partner. Issues of income support, child support, paid work, housing, 

parenting, child-care, family law, violence and abuse continue as concerns to the present day. 

NCSMC has member organisations in states and territories around Australia, many of which also 

provide services and support to families after parental separation. 

NCSMC aims to: 

Ensure that all children have a fair start in life; 

Recognise single mother families as a viable and positive family unit; 

Promote understanding of single mothers and their children in the community that they may 

live free from prejudice; 

To work for improvements in the social economic and legal status of single mothers and 

their children. 

This submission will focus primarily on the second term of reference: 

Making it easier for parents who so wish to return to the paid workforce. 

NCSMC wishes to highlight that existing legislation does not allow single mothers on income 

support to choose the circumstances of return to work as they are compelled to undertake certain 

activities as part of their “mutual obligation”. It would appear that the Australian Government 

intends to significantly increase these obligations, making choice even more limited. Thus, 

NCSMC wishes the committee to note the double standard that currently applies where single 

mothers face compulsion to undertake paid work, compared to couple mothers who may choose 

their involvement.1 

Parental separation and violence 

Single-parent households comprise more than one in five households with dependent children in 

Australia and comprise one the fastest growing family forms (Wise, 2003). Most single parents are 

1 Refer to Appendix A for NCSMC’s Guiding Principles to further welfare reform. 

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mothers, with nine out of 10 children living with their mothers after parental separation (ABS 

1999). The rise in single-parent households is primarily attributable to the rising rate of separations 

between parents, and violence is implicated as a strong driver of relationship breakdown. Recent 

Australian research into the reasons for divorce found that, after general communication 

breakdown, violence and addictions were the most common reasons women gave for ending the 

relationship (Wolcott & Hughes 1999). 

This reasoning is supported statistically in the ABS (1996) survey of women’s safety, which found 

that single women with an ex-partner were the most likely to have experienced violence, and the ex- 

partner was the most probable assailant. The population survey found that 23% of adult women 

who had ever partnered had experienced violent assault by a current partner or former partner, but 

single women who had previously been partnered were at highest risk of experiencing assault, with 

42% reporting violence at some time during their relationship (ABS 1996, p. 51). Family court data 

indicates that 66% of separations involving children have violence or abuse (Family Law Pathways 

Report 2001). 

The data reported in the submission are drawn from a doctoral research project undertaken in South 

Australia in the 1 990s (Mclnnes 2001), which compared the family transition experiences of single 

mothers who left violent relationships with those who did not have to content with violence.2 

Interviews were conducted with 36 single mothers, which included separated and divorced mothers 

and women who had given birth outside of an established partnership. Of the 29 women 

interviewed who became single mothers as the result of relationship break down, 18 reported that 

their relationship ended due to violence. Abuse was self-defined by respondents and always 

included physical violence and sometimes included sexual, social, financial and emotional abuse. 

The violence typically formed part of the relationship dynamic in which the mother and children 

lived in constant fear and anxiety, rather than a single explosive event. 

Labour market participation 

Only 4 of the mothers interviewed had never participated in the paid workforce, and 28 of the 36 

women were either undertaking paid work or study at the time of interview. Thus for the majority, 

paid work and/or study formed an integral part of their identity and daily experience. 

Single mothers who separated from violent relationships were less likely to be in paid work, but 

more likely to be studying, than other mothers at the time of interview. Of the 20 survivors of 

childhood and/or adult violence, 70% were mainly reliant on income support. Two-thirds of the 

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mothers who were mainly reliant on income support were studying at the time of interview and 

three out of four single mother students had left violent relationships. This fits with existing 

research that found that divorced women who had been exposed to severe abuse were less likely to 

be in the paid workforce than other divorced women (Sheehan and Smyth 2000). 

The differences between single mothers’ paid work and study status according to their exposure to 

violent relationships indicates that analysis of single mothers’ economic participation cannot be 

reduced to infrastructure needs such as childcare. Women’s exposure to gendered violence and their 

responsibilities for care of children combine to qualitatively change their access to the paid 

workforce. 

Gender and working parents 

Australia’s paid workforce is highly gendered, where women’s work is predominantly clustered in 

low-paid part-time service work (Baker and Tippin 1999; Edwards and Magarey 1995; Pocock 

1995; Sharp and Broomhill 1988). Women’s increased participation in paid work has not produced 

a proportionate decline in their share of domestic and family work relative to men (Bittman & 

Lovejoy 1993; Hochschild 1997). Thus gender remains a clear determinant ofworkforce 

participation, reflecting women’s unpaid caring responsibilities, and the higher rewards of work 

available to men. 

Current family policy increases the risks ofunemployment for single parents. Current family policy 

pays higher rewards to mothers in couple families withdrawing from the workforce, through the 

non-means tested payment of FTB B to single income families. When mothers are not partnered 

they become subject to new participation requirements to maintain access to a subsistence income 

support payment. Current family policy is thus incoherent and inconsistent by paying some mothers 

to stop work and requiring other mothers to start work. The best protection against unemployment 

for single mothers is to enable all parents, couple and single, to make structured transitions in and 

out of the workforce as caregiving needs require over the life course. This means consideration of 

initiatives such as maternity leave and paternity leave, quality affordable child care services, 

retraining packages and subsidy entitlements for caregivers returning to work. 

2 All identifying information has been removed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of respondents. 

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Single Mothers and Paid Work 

A study comparing return to work programmes for low income mothers across Australia, Canada, 

New Zealand and the United Kingdom concluded that the variation in levels of workforce activity 

required of mothers affected the level of difficulty experienced by families, but did not essentially 

change the degree or scope of poverty of single mother households (Baker and Tippin 1999). 

Along with responsibility for dependent children, low paid work in insecure jobs in a gender- 

segmented labour market prevented single mothers from gaining access to economic independence. 

Only well-paid, secure full-time jobs would enable parents to support their children on a single 

income, without any reliance on income support. 

In the Economic Consequences of Marriage Breakdown study, McDonald (1986) found that being 

in the workforce at the time of separation was the most important factor influencing post-separation 

workforce participation of mothers with dependent children. Women who had undertaken paid 

work during the marriage, particularly after the birth of the second child, were the most likely to 

continue paid work participation. Women with professional occupational experience had a higher 

workforce attachment, and better access to secure working conditions. Reporting these findings, 

Funder (1989:82) noted that decisions taken during the marriage about the gender division of paid 

work and child rearing responsibilities strongly influenced women’s post separation employment 

prospects. 

Recommendations: 

NCSMC recommends that government policy be reviewed to address inconsistencies that 

“encourage” single mothers, on the one hand, to enter paid work, and couple mothers, on 

the other, to stay at home. 

NCSMC recommends that family support policy be reviewed to introduce paid maternity 

leave and paternity leave, quality affordable child care services, retraining packages and 

subsidy entitlementsfor caregivers returning to work 

Factors such as the women’s level of education and history of paid work also affect their likelihood 

of paid work participation. A relatively high wage was needed to compensate for work costs and 

the loss of income support, as well as rent increases for mothers living in public housing. Research 

in Australia into sole parents leaving the income support system, has confirmed that access to well- 

paid employment with family-friendly workplace conditions and appropriate affordable childcare 

was the most sustainable path out of poverty for single mothers (Chalmers 1999:45; McHugh & 

Millar 1996; Wilson et al. 1998). 

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Factors identified in previous research as producing the highest incidence of reliance on income 

support were: 

Being out of the paid workforce at time of separation; 

Not being involved in the decision to separate; 

Having an income lower than the benefit level paid; 

Having less than Year 12 schooling; and 

Not re-partnering within five to eight years (Funder 1989:85). 

The number of children in the family also affected a mother’s labour market participation with 

participation in work declining as the number of children rose (Funder 1989). In Mclnnes 2001, 72 

percent of the sample had one or two children, and four out of five of these were working or 

studying. None of the respondents with three or more children were in the paid workforce at the 

time ofinterview, although seventy percent of these were studying. 

p 

Paid work and caring responsibilities 

In the study by Mclnnes 2001, parents felt torn between their parenting and earning roles. The dual 

demands of being the only available parent and income earner made participation in paid work a 

balancing act for many women. While mothers expected to work and earn their own income as 

their children grew older, a lack of alternative care meant they could not easily work outside 

standard office hours. 

If you have a partner it~s much easier to stay back at work. Childcare finishes atfive thirty and you have 

to be there to pick the child up. I always had to leave early to pick her up I missed out on hours of 

work. Iwas only paid by the hour (Juanita, 41, 1 child). 

It would be very difficult doing shifi work. There~s lobs that I’ve had that I wouldn’t be able to do now, 

like when I was working with young disabled people 8 hour sh~fis over a 24 hours period seven days a 

week and I]ust wouldn’t be able to get child care (Ann, 40, 1 child). 

I couldn’t possibly see howl could keep a night-time job. Childcare was something that wasn’t available 

at night in those days… My mother was prepared to have the children but only ~fItook them to her house. 

She had no room set up for them. I had to pick them up at 11 o’clock at night, take them out and put them 

in the car, and drive home (Kerry, 31, 2 children). 

Respondents stressed that being able to meet their children’s needs came first, and their ability to 

undertake paid work had to fit in around these needs. However, they did sacrifice their own needs 

especially in relation to recreation and leisure time, leading to increased isolation and stress. 

Work made me really very isolated because I was losing my energy I was coming back at about seven 

o clock in the evening and trying to cook something for her. She was screaming because.. she spent 

between ten and twelve hours in a day-care centre so she was miserable (Sasha, 42, 1 child). 

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When Ifirst came back, because I was so tired and getting so little sleep, I was bursting into tears all the 

time and Ifound it very hard to look professional… I’ve had to go home during the day and have sleeps 

because I was just so knackered (Ann, 40, 1 child). 

Where mothers had made the transition into paid work some found themselves having to return to 

income support due to illness, lack of child care, lack of transport and stress. 

I can’t nurse any more I’ve got registration however I’m not able to work any more as a nurse because 

I have to take care ofeverybody including my ex. I had to accommodate my life to suit his 4fe because he 

refused to do it (Sasha, 41, 1 child). 

Recommendation: 

NCSMC recommends that ‘welfare to works policy must enable easy and fast transition between 

paid work and income support to ensure single mothers are able to meet their children ~sneeds. 

Despite their efforts to find ways to work, single mothers’ workforce participation remained 

subordinate to the demands of family for a number of reasons: P 

There was no other present parent to share care for children; 

Mothers barely saw their children when they worked full-time; 

Working full-time meant risking exhaustion; 

Children needed their remaining parent’s attention. 

For those mothers who had experienced violence, their family demands were higher due to the 

continuing impact of trauma on their own and their children’s health. Taft (2003) notes that there 

are strong links between intimate violence and damage to women s mental health, including 

depression, anxiety, substance misuse, suicidality and post traumatic stress disorder. 

Child Care 

The single mothers in the sample (Mclnnes 2001) drew on both formal and informal sources of 

care, with the most advantaged mothers being able to draw on a wider range. Informal sources 

included relatives, friends and the other parent and had the advantage of being both flexible and 

cost free. For women who had experienced violence their choices were far more limited as they 

were often isolated from both informal and formal sources of care. 

Consistent with other research (Swinbourne et al. 2000; Wijnberg & Weinger 1998), the women in 

the sample with close relationships with family found this the best form of alternative care. But not 

all women could rely on family support, especially migrant women. Women who had experienced 

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childhood violence could not rely on family, and those who had experienced violence as an adult 

had been forced to move away from their ex-partner and were thus isolated from family. 

Only 13 mothers (3 6%) in the sample (Mclnnes 2001) had regular contact with their ex-partner. A 

study of labour force capacity of sole parents who shared care with the other parent found that 

mothers who shared care in a regular, co-operative, flexible and satisfactory arrangement with the 

other parent were considerably more likely to be in paid work than single mothers who did not 

share care (Dickenson et al. 1999). However, where mothers did depend on ex-partners for care 

while they undertook paid work, ex-partners were able to continue to exert control over mother’s 

activities, echoing other research findings that partners decided whether to ‘allow’ mothers to work 

in couple families (Eureka Strategic Research, 1998:68). Full time work by mothers could also 

create barriers to regular contact with the non-resident parent. When mothers were working full- 

time, weekends were their only opportunity to spend leisure time with their child, competing with 

non-resident fathers’ time. Access to care by the other parent was not possible for the women 

whose ex-partners were absent, and not in the child’s interest when the other parent was abusive. 

Survivors ofviolence thus had less access to this source of care. 

A third source of alternative care was neighbourhood networks, providing the convenience of 

locality. Like family, friends were an important resource out of hours, or when children were sick 

and could not attend school or childcare. Relocation after separation created barriers to women 

sustaining the neighbourhood friendships that had developed before their relationships ended. 

Women fleeing violence were often forced to move away form their neighbourhoods. Those who 

were able to remain in their homes during and after the separation were more likely to have access 

to neighbourhood support networks that could replace or extend family support. 

Most commonly, formal child care was used. Less flexible and more expensive, it was more 

reliable for mothers to meet work and study commitments. Survivors of violence and migrants 

were more reliant on formal childcare services. However, child care usually had to be booked in 

advance, creating difficulties for women who worked casual hours and were unsure of their child 

care needs. Cost limited mothers’ use of child care. Mothers who had experienced abuse of 

themselves or their children were often distrustful of childcare. Overall, survivors of violence 

experienced relative disadvantage in access to all sources of alternative care. 

Despite the limitations, high quality affordable, accessible childcare was important to reducing 

isolation among survivors ofviolence, migrant mothers and others who did not have ready access to 

informal care sources. The data indicate that accessible, affordable, safe child care remains 

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fundamental to enabling single mothers to participate in paid work, particularly for migrant women 

and those who have survived violence. Identification and awareness of the needs of parent and 

child survivors of violence could provide considerable support to women seeking to improve their 

workforce opportunities. 

Recommendation: 

NCSMC recommends that government fund affordable, accessible, appropriate, quality child care 

places, in numbers sufficient to meet demand. 

Workforce motivations and barriers 

Poverty Trays 

Gaining financial rewards from work was important to justify the additional cost and effort of 

workforce participation for mothers, however, poverty traps undermined respondents’ motivation to 

work. Respondents in this research (Mclnnes 2001) calculated the impact of market eamings on 

their income support payments and felt there needed to be greater financial incentives to enter the 

workforce, particularly for those living in public housing, when earnings also increased rent. 

I was earning maybe one hundred and fifty extra but I had to cut it down to part-time and it just wasn’t 

worth it. Housing Trust put your rent up. Social Security takes away money and I was aboutfive dollars 

better off (Bonny, 28, 3 children). 

My rent went up over sixty dollars a week when I started working and when I complained about that they 

said ~youare already in subsidised housing what are you complaining about’ (Laurel, 38, 3 children). 

The combination of low-paid, insecure jobs with high effective marginal tax rates in income tests on 

public rental rates and income support payments, provided no economic benefit to families in public 

housing to compensate for the time pressure and the financial and family costs of going to paid 

work. Poverty traps did not as severely affect single mothers in private rental housing or 

homebuyers as earnings did not directly increase their housing costs. Survivors of violence and 

mothers without wage income capital assets were more likely to be living in public housing, and 

were thus more severely affected by poverty traps than other mothers. The paradox of poverty traps 

is that mothers with higher income earning capacity and assets are less severely affected than 

mothers living in deep poverty, in public housing, with poor income prospects. 

Recommendations: 

NCSMC recommends the removal of quadruple income test (Youth Allowance, Family Tax 

Benefit, Child Care Benefit and Child Support). 

NCSMC recommends federal and state governments cooperate to address the public housing 

rental / market earnings poverty trap. 

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Access to transyort 

A key dimension of poverty and isolation among single mothers was their access to private 

transport. The study or workforce prospects of single mothers without access to private transport 

were limited, compared to those who held a driver’s licence and could afford to run a car (Mclnnes 

2001). Getting children to child care or school on public transport and then getting to workplaces, 

often required mothers to rouse children at dawn. Women living in non-metropolitan areas were at 

an even greater disadvantage due to limited services. 

I would have had to drop him at somebody’s house atfive in the morning, having got myself up and the 

baby up it would have to be a house close by… I would have to have him there including weekends when 

there was sh~fl work and it~ harder to find child care on rotating shifts (Judith, 34, 1 child). 

I had to take her in the morning on the bus, then catch another bus, with the pusher, with her bottle, her 

nappies, everything, to the child care. I then had to walk down to the day care centre, then come back 

and walk to my classes and then back to pick her up. Whew! I was walking. It was a slavery (Sasha, 42, 

1 child). 

I was catching buses. I didn’t have a licence. I was leaving home at quarter to six in the morning to be at 

work by seven and I wasn’t getting home tillfive thirty at night (Judith, 34, 1 child). 

Women’s life histories of income status, relationships, culturally scripted gender roles and 

motherhood formed part of the context in which some had not been able to learn to drive. Some 

women had grown up in low income households without a car, others had lived in relationships in 

which only men were drivers, and therefore controlled women’s mobility. Gaining a driver’s licence 

meant gaining freedom to move. 

Recommendation: 

NCSMC recommends that government provide funding to single mothers on income support to 

cover the cost of driving lessons and purchase ofdriver ‘s licence. 

Post Sevaration Violence 

Despite the widespread belief that leaving the relationship stops domestic violence, a number of 

survivors of violence reported continuing harassment, stalking, threats and physical attacks by their 

ex-partner (Mclnnes 2001). Mothers who had to maintain contact with a violent ex-partner for 

child contact found that management of their ex-partner’s violence changed, but did not necessarily 

stop after separation. Their actions were still constrained and conditioned by the need to manage 

and reduce the risk of further violence against themselves and their children. 

I still have to appease his moods. Even though we are apart I have to be careful about what the children 

might say on the phone to him so as not to rock the boat in order to protect myself to protect the 

children (Mabel, 36, 6 children). 

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There was ofien conflict at exchange at access so we have been through the Family Court and had 

restraining orders put in place and conditions of access and that sort of thing (Tare, 36, 2 children). 

In cases of continuing contact between children and abusive fathers, both mothers and children 

were unable to work on recovery from their trauma, remaining hostage to the potential and actuality 

of ongoing violence. Mothers whose children had been abused by their father were presented with 

a no-win situation in which they had left the relationship to protect their children from abuse, yet 

they were required to cooperate with presenting their child for contact with the alleged perpetrator. 

Recommendations: 

NCSMC endorses the Family Law Council (2002) and Every Picture Tells a Stoiy Report 

(2004) recommendations that a national child protection service be established, improving the 

quality of child abuse investigation and evidence available to the Family Court. 

NCSMC recommends that the Family Law Act be amended to privilege child(ren) ~ safety in 

determining his/her best interests. 

Education and Work Histories 

Those in the sample (Mclnnes 2001) with little education had mainly held low paid, part time jobs 

such as cleaning, retailing or food and hospitality services. The mothers with post-secondary 

qualifications were more likely to be mainly reliant on market income than those who had no post- 

school qualification. Forty-five percent of the sample had not finished Year 12. Of these mothers 

many had held jobs with no training, no security and relatively low pay. For women who grew up 

with an abusive parent, leaving home and schooling was a way to escape the abuse. 

Women who had not succeeded at school did not expect that they would be able to handle study as 

an adult. Success at education as adults prompted women to re-evaluate their capacities and goals. 

Gendered expectations about women’s working lives, the demands of marriage and family, as well 

as experiences of violence were the main factors which had shaped single mothers’ education and 

work histories. Many respondents had left education as young women believing they would 

eventually be supported by their partners, or to escape abuse from their family. Husbands’ views on 

mothers’ workforce participation, as well as the demands of children, restricted women’s work 

during the partnership, and left many single mothers with a low income earning capacity after the 

relationship ended. 

Gaining new or updated workplace skills was an important step for single mothers who wanted to 

return to work. Study and training courses provided women with new opportunities; however, 

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women were interested in careers which would support themselves and their children, rather then 

short-term low-paid job options. 

Single Mothers and Study 

Combining parenting and studying generated similar conflicts to those between paid work and 

parenting demands. Students were more able to be flexible to meet family demands, but student 

workloads were often organised around the lifestyles of young adults without dependants. Mothers 

often experienced time and family stress while studying. Not only did the demands of children and 

study conflict, but educational institutions made few allowances for the needs of carers. 

On the first day of orientation we had someone come in to talk about time management and he proceeded 

to tell single parents why they shouldn’t be at university. That was my introduction.., we all felt really 

bad. He told us you can’t be a good parent and study (Anita, 38, 2 children). 

Despite the lack of flexibility and recognition of single mothers’ family needs by some education 

institutions, access to higher education was greatly valued by women in the study. Department of 

Family and Community Services data shows that sole parents were the income support group with 

the highest rate of participation in education (Landt & Peck 2000). 

Half of the respondents (Mclnnes 2001) were enrolled in a post-secondary course at the time of 

interview. Two-thirds of these were enrolled in university and the remaining third in TAFE 

courses. Further education was seen as a way to improve their earning capacity in the longer term. 

The data showed a trend for the level of education to increase with age. Many respondents who had 

returned to study as a single mother discovered they were able to succeed educationally. Success at 

education was important to recovering a positive sense of identity and achievement, as well as 

expanding social networks and decreasing isolation. However, poverty remained a barrier to single 

mothers’ participation in education, and survivors of violent relationships often lived in deeper 

relative poverty, with less access to assets from the relationship and less access to child support. 

In summary, respondents’ motivations to begin studying were linked to their desire to achieve 

longer term career goals. Success in education offered a positive sense of self-esteem and 

achievement sufficient to persist though barriers including lost earning opportunities, costs of 

studying, risks of not getting a job on completion and the stress on the family. When the family 

experienced increased stress due to illness or other crises, mothers preferred to defer studies to 

attend to family demands. 

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Recommendation: 

NCSMC recommends government promote and encourage single mothers on income support to 

undertake higher education, by subsidising places at institutions, allowing study as an approved 

activity, and ensuring the continuation of the Pensioner Education Supplement. 

Summary of Research Findings 

The impact on work and study arising from violence emerged in the research (Mclnnes 2001) as an 

issue for women in the workforce. Violence against women and children is commonly constituted 

within a welfare paradigm of social policy providing crisis housing and financial relief, while the 

legacy of violence on survivor’s work and education opportunities has received comparatively little 

attention (Danziger et al. 2000). The poverty, health impacts, isolation and loss of trust arising 

from violence affected survivors access to paid work and study and their use of alternative care 

resources. 

Single mothers’ opportunities to develop market earnings were underpinned by a range of 

prerequisites which could not be assumed within the cumulative gendered effects of prolonged 

poverty, experiences of violence and responsibility for dependent others. Such prerequisites for 

labour market participation included: 

Physical safety for parent and child(ren); 

Emotional and physical health of the parent and child(ren); 

Secure housing; 

Access to transport; 

Access to appropriate child care resources; 

Access to suitable training / education; 

Access to network with employment opportunities. 

Violence negatively impacted on single mothers’ workforce and study opportunities in a number of 

complex ways, mediated by other factors: 

Survivors of violence often experienced increased family demand due to the physical, emotional 

and financial stresses of past and continuing violence, thereby reducing their sustained 

availability for other activities. 

Survivors were more restricted in access to alternative forms of care. Survivors were often 

isolated from family and friends through having to move or go into hiding. They could not 

safely call on their ex-partner to provide care, and their experiences often made them more 

distrustful of childcare. 

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Survivors were more likely to have been housed in public housing, and were thus exposed to 

deeper poverty traps compared to those in privately rented or purchased housing. 

Survivors were less likely to have access to private transport, due to poverty, and never 

obtaining a driver’s licence. 

Survivors of violence as children had often left home and education to escape, placing them at 

risk of long-term disadvantage in the labour market. 

Survivors of violence carry the costs, including impaired physical and mental health of both 

child and adult targets, which impact on their capacity to participate in paid work and education. 

There are the increased financial and time costs of attendance at health services, medications, 

and disability aids. Many survivors of violence also face increased legal costs to try to protect 

themselves and their children using the state and federal courts. There is also the cost of the 

loss or damage to housing and possessions arising from the destruction of property, forced 

abandonment of home, debts arising from the relationship and forgone claims to property of the 

relationship. 

Policy approaches assisting mothers to seek work need to take account of the extra demands on 

survivors of violence and the responsibilities of providing care. Constructing mothers as gender- 

neutral agents in the labour market cannot adequately account for the gendered dimensions of the 

distribution of unpaid care, poverty and violence. Thus increased compulsion on single mothers to 

participate in workforce activity can be expected to create increased burdens on the most vulnerable 

families and do little to address the drivers of relative disadvantage among single mothers. 

Policy reforms such as increased financial rewards for paid work, increased access to affordable, 

quality, flexible child care and increased assistance with transport and education cost are necessary 

to supporting single mothers to improve their income-earning opportunities. Recognition of the 

impact of gendered violence on single mother’s poverty and their subsequent working opportunities 

indicates the need to dramatically improve legal responses to financially compensate mothers and 

children for violence against them, and the support their safety and recovery after separation. 

Recommendations: 

NCSMC recommends that government, in considering policies to encourage transitions from 

welfare to paid work, prioritise rights to safety, healing and recovery for all victims ofviolence, 

beyond the current scope of crisis intervention. 

14

NCSMC recommends that government does not overlook the imperative to consider the impact 

of violence when developing policy to encourage the transition from welfare to paid work. In 

doing so, further research specifically addressing this area will need to be undertaken. 

NCSMC recommends that government consider how it could improve the legal responses to 

victims of violence to financially compensate them for the violence suffered, and help in their 

healing and recovery. 

NCSMC recommends that government fund the provision of training and education of 

professionals, volunteers and helpers who come into contact with victims of violence. This• 

needs to include prevalence, characteristics, dynamics and consequences of violence/abuse in 

families, how to recognise it and what to do about it. Workers need to know how to go about 

prioritising responses to achieve safety, and supporting healing and resiliencefor victims. 

In addition to the above recommendations, NCSMC recommends that government implement 

thefollowing policies in recognition of the unpaid care work single mothers undertake: 

1. Increased national investment in access to retraining and education packages for 

parents and carers who haveforegone wages to meet care commitments. 

2. The development of wage subsidy packages to build worliforce attachment and skillsfor 

parents and carers who haveforegone wages to meet care commitments. 

3. A nationalflexible system of maternity leave and parental leave to support parents and 

carers who haveforegone wages to meet care commitments in the early period of 

children ‘s lives, with pathways back to employment emphasising parental choice and 

flexibility. 

4. Affirmative action in the workplace to support women ‘s and mothers~ access to 

permanent employment with career paths and skills acquisition. 

5. Increased investment in family support services, with pathways to employment and 

education servicesfor parents and carers who haveforegone wages to meet care 

commitments. 

REFERENCES 

Australian Bureau of Statistics (1996) Women~ Safety After Separation, Catalogne Number 4128.0, 

AGPS, Canberra. 

Australian Bureau of Statistics (1999) Children, Australia: A Social Report, Catalogue Number 

4119.0, AGPS, Canberra. 

15

Baker, M. & Tippin, D. (1999) Poverty, Social Assistance and the Employability ofMothers, 

University of Toronto Press, Toronto. 

Bittman, M. & Lovejoy, F. (1993) “Domestic Power: Negotiating an Unequal Division of Labour 

within a Framework of Equality”, Australian and New Zealand Journal ofSociology, 29(3), 

pp. 302-321. 

Chalmers, J. (1999) Sole Parent Exit Study: Final Report, Social Policy Research Centre, Sydney. 

Danziger, Sandra, Corcoran, M., Danziger, Sheldon, Helflin, C., Kalil, A., Levin, J., Rosen, D., 

Seefeldt, K., Siefert, K., Tolman, R. (2000) “Barriers to the Employment of Welfare 

Recipients”, in Cherry, R. & Rodgers, W. (eds.) Prosperityfor All? The Economic Boom 

and African Americans, University of Michigan, Michigan. 

Dickenson, J., Heyworth, C., Plunkett, K., Wilson, K., (1999) “Sharing the Care of Children Post 

Separation: Family Dynamics and Labour Force Capacity”, Family Strengths Conference, 

University of Newcastle, November. 

Edwards, A. & Magarey, 5. (1995) Women in Restructuring Australia, Southwood Press, Sydney. 

Eureka Strategic Research (1998) Qualitative Research on Women~ and Families’ Workforce 

Participation Decisions, Dept. of Health and Family Services, Dept of Social Security, 

Office of the Status of Women, Canberra. 

Family Law Council (2002) Family Law and Child Protection, AGPS, Canberra. 

Family Law Pathway Advisory Group, (2001), Out of the Maze: Pathways to the Future for 

Families Separation, AGPS, Canberra. 

Funder, K. (1989) “Women’s Post Separation Workforce Participation” in Whiteford, P. (ed.) What 

Futureforthe Welfare State? Volume 5, Income Maintenance and Income Security, SPRC Reports 

and Proceedings 83, Social Policy Research Centre, Sydney. 

Hochschild, A. (1997) The Time Bind, Henry Holt & Company, New York. 

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs, (2003), Every 

Picture Tells a Story: Report on the Inquiry into Child Custody Arrangements in the Event 

of Family Separation, AGPS, Canberra. 

Landt, J. & Pech, J. (2000) “Work and Welfare in Australia: The Changing Role of Income 

th 

Support”, 7 AIFS Conference, Sydney, 24-26 July. 

McDonald, P., (ed) (1986) Settling Up: Property and Income Distribution on Divorce in Australia, 

AIFS & Prentice Hall, Melbourne. 

McHugh, M. & Millar, J. (1996) Sole Mothers in Australia: Supporting Mothers to Seek Work, 

Discussion Paper 71, SPRC, Sydney. 

Mclnnes, E. (2001) Public Policy and Private Lives: Single Mothers, Social Policy and Gendered 

Violence , Thesis for Doctor of Philosophy, FUSA, Bedford Park. 

16

Mclnnes, E. (2004) Keeping Children Safe: The Links Between Family Violence and Poverty, 

Because Children Matter.~ Tackling Poverty Together, Uniting Missions National 

Conference, Adelaide. 

Mclnnes, E. (2004) The Impact of Violence on Mothers’ and Children’s Needs During and After 

Separation, Early Childhood Development and Care, 174(4), pp. 357-368. 

O’Connor, J., Orloff, A. & Shaver, 5. (1999) States, Markets, Families: Gender, Liberalism and 

Social Policy in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the United States, Cambridge 

University Press, Cambridge. 

Pocock, B. (1995) “Women’s Work and Wages”, in Women in Restructuring Australia: Work and 

Welfare, Allen & Unwin, Sydney. 

Sharp, R. & Broomhill, R. (1988) Short Changed: Women and Economic Policies, Allen & Unwin, 

Sydney. 

Sheehan, G. & Smyth, B. (2000) “Spousal Violence and Post Separation Financial Outcomes”, 

Australian Journal ofFamily Law, 14(2), pp. 102-118. 

Swinbourne, K., Esson, K., Cox, E. & Scouler, B. (2000) The Social Economy of Sole Parenting, 

University of Technology, Sydney. 

Taft, A., (2003), Promoting Women’s Mental Health: The Challenges of Intimate/Domestic 

Violence Against Women, Issues Paper No. 8., Australian Domestic and Family Violence 

Clearinghouse, UNSW, Sydney. 

Wilson, K., Bates, K. & Pech, J. (1998) “Parents, the Labour Force and Social Security”, Income 

Support, Labour Markets and Behaviour: A Research Agenda Conference, Background 

Paper, Dept. of Family & Community Services, Canberra, November 24-25. 

Wijnberg, M. & Weinger, 5. (1998), “When Dreams Wither and Resources Fail: the Social Support 

Systems of Poor Single Mothers”, Families in Society: The Journalfor Contemporary 

Human Services, 79(2), pp. 212-219. 

Wise, 5. (2003) Family Structure, Child Outcomes and Environmental Mediators, Research Paper 

30, AIFS, Melbourne. 

Wolcott, I. & Hughes, J. (1999) Towards Understanding the Reasons for Divorce, Working Paper 

No. 20, AIFS, Melbourne. 

17

Appendix 1 

Guiding Principles Sole Parents & Welfare Reform 

Overview 

NCSMC recommends that the Australian Government does not increase participation requirements 

for Parenting Payment recipients for the following reasons: 

Sole parents are the most active income support recipient population undertaking paid work, 

employment assistance programs, study and training; 

Demand for employment assistance programs, training and child care places far exceeds P 

supply; 

No evaluation data is yet available to determine the success or otherwise of the Australians 

Working Together legislation as implemented as at 30 September 2002, and 30 September 

2003. 

NCSMC recommends that the Australian Government implements the following reforms: 

Invest in the well being ofAustralian sole parent families by increasing the number of 

places available in employment assistance programs, training and child care; 

Facilitate the uptake of such places by providing sufficient funding to allow sole parents to 

fill these places; 

Provide evaluation data so the success or otherwise ofthe existing Australians Working 

Together legislation can be determined. This should include, but not be limited to, data with 

respect to parents and others on: 

~ Movement from benefit to paid work (including casual, part time, and full time) 

~ Access to services, including return to work programs (eg JET, TTW), training 

education, and child care; 

~ Breaching rates 

Consultation 

To ensure proper consultation takes place, NCSMC recommends the following consultation process 

takes place: 

Public meetings to be held in each state/territory; 

A Discussion Paper is drafted by DEWR and released for public comment (by written 

submission and with reasonable time line); 

Following this, an Options Paper is drafted and released for public comment (by written 

submission and with reasonable time line). 

NCSMC 

National Council of Single Mothers and their Children Inc. 

220 Victoria Square Tarndanyangga Adelaide SA 5000 Ph: 0882262505 Fax: 0882262509 

ncsmc(~2ncsmc.om.au http://www.ncsmc.org.au 

18

Assistance / Supports IServices in DEWR lan2uaael 

Retention of current Parenting Payment (pension) levels and income test (with taper rate at 

40 cents in the dollar) for existing Parenting Payment recipients and new applicants; 

There should be acknowledgement that further assistance and support is needed (both access 

to and funding of) to address the structural disadvantage faced by sole parents; 

Access to affordable, accessible, appropriate, quality child care, including before and after 

school, vacation, night-time & weekend care; 

Provision of funding for appropriate and long term substantive training and/or education, 

including the retention of the Pensioner Education Supplement (PES), as well as expansion 

of PES to those receiving Parenting Payment Partnered (PPP); 

Access to and funding for appropriate transport, noting that sole parents have a double 

transport burden (children to school and parent to work); 

Access to funding for job search costs; (noting that these costs were never factored into 

current pension amounts, as raising children alone was considered sufficient activity); 

Access to appropriate employment / return to work programs, with appropriately trained 

staff (eg TTW, JET, PSP) these programs need to be responsive to needs of sole parents 

and their children, flexible, friendly and not based on compliance; 

Access to and funding for health or other therapeutic services (parents and children) needed 

to enable a parent to engage in participation requirements; 

Access to wage subsidy programs that lead to real jobs (paid work experience); P 

Access to family friendly workplaces; 

The RTW/JET child care subsidies should extend to all PP recipients undertaking labour 

market related activity; 

Participation supplements, and/or well publicised, dedicated funds within Job Seeker 

Accounts and RTW/JET budgets to assist with the direct costs ofjob search, employment 

and education and training. 

Incentives / Removal of Disincentives IWork Incentives in DEWR 1an~uas~e1 

Retention of pension income test (taper rate at 40 cents in the dollar), and this taper rate 

should also apply to PPP recipients to encourage part time paid work; 

Removal of quadruple income test (Youth Allowance, Family Tax Benefit, Child Care 

Benefit and Child Support); 

Progressively remove anomalies that result in reduction / loss of family income once 

youngest child turns 16; 

Addressing major disincentives to repartnering (ie marriage like relationships); 

Addressing uncertainty brought about by forced participation (eg focus on meeting 

obligations demands less focus on children’s needs, ability to transfer from paid work to 

pension); 

Breaking down disincentives; including cost of child care, cost of working (especially initial 

costs of work entry) 

Activities must lead to “real” jobs; 

Public housing rent increases / disincentives 

Concessions cards need to retain access for some time as it provides access to state (eg 

transport, telephone) concessions; and these concession cards should be available to PPP 

recipients as well. 

19

R&iuirements IWork obli2ations in DEWR 1an~ua~e1 

Should the Australian Government not accept NCSMC’s recommendation and choose to pursue 

an increase in participation requirements, at a bare minimum the following protections should 

be legislated: 

The legislative protections underpinning the participation requirements introduced in 

Australians Working Together should be retained, including: 

(1) any requirements should be averaged over a number of weeks rather than a fixed 

number ofhours per week 

(2) parents should have the option to participate in education and training that would 

improve their future job prospects and income 

(3) parents should be exempted from participation requirements where they have: 

~ a child with a disability, 

~ a sick child, or 

~ where a critical event in the family’s life (e.g. divorce proceedings, threat of 

domestic violence) would make compulsory participation unreasonable at this 

time. 

(4) decisions on breaches ofparticipation requirements or agreements should continue to 

be made by the delegate of the Minister pursuant to social security legislation 

(5) an accessible, fair and prompt Social Security Appeals system should remain in 

place, and payments should continue or be resumed while appeals are being 

considered 

(6) existing arrangements to waive penalties on compliance and use suspensions rather 

than breaches to encourage attendance should continue 

The following additional protections should be introduced: 

(1) The legislation should specify that any participation requirements must be 

reasonable, taking account of children’s needs, parents’ education employment and 

training history and goals, and barriers to participation such as disabilities 

(2) The breaches system should be reformed in accord with the Pearce Report: 

including a reduction in maximum non payment periods to a maximum of eight 

weeks 

no requirements apart from interviews should be imposed for the first twelve months 

after the recipient receives Parenting Payment 

The current participation requirements for sole parents on income support whose 

youngest child is 13 should not be increased; 

The legislation should protect the legal obligations / primary responsibility of parents to 

provide care to their children without risk of loss or reduction of income support, or 

other penalty (this would include missing appointments, leaving the work place, failing 

to attend training, etc when children/domestic needs arise both in the short term and 

over the longer term); 

The legislation should protect the rights of child(ren) to have access to parental time as 

needed; 

Where accessible, affordable, appropriate, quality child care is not available , there 

should be no requirement to participate; 

Parents should not be required to engage in activities outside of school hours (including 

school holidays); 

The number of dependents (children, elderly parents, etc) in a parent’s care should be 

recognised as limiting their capacity to participate; 

Time limits should be placed on travel requirements consistent with current AWT 

legislation, ie a maximum of45 minutes each way (this includes travel to/from child’s 

school and parent’s work); 

I 

I 

P 

20

Monitoring 

To ensure the well being of single parent families it will be essential to closely monitor the 

implementation of any new welfare reform measures. This should include, but is not limited to: 

Ongoing and regnlar publication of data; 

Ongoing and regular consultation with sole parents and organisations involved with sole 

parents; 

Independent evaluations of impact of any new reforms; 

A transparent and easily accessible complaints process; 

A transparent and accessible appeals process 

P 

21

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