Appeal to Lift Living Standards of Sole Parent Pensioners

19 June 2009

ACOSS has warned that 360,000 of the poorest families in Australia will be left behind by legislation before a Senate Committee which increases payments for age, disability and carer pensioners but which fails to include sole parent pensioners.

Appearing this morning at a Senate Inquiry to the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform and Other 2009 Budget Measures) Bill, ACOSS urged the Committee recommend changes to the legislation so that sole parents on Parenting Payment Single also receive the pension increase.

ACOSS has also raised concerns about the widening gaps and inadequacy of the Newstart Allowance; proposals to freeze the real value of Family Tax Benefits and the increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 in the absence of an increase in the superannuation preservation age.

“The proposal to lift the single pensions by $33 per week will usher in the largest increase since the Whitlam Government and will relieve financial pressures faced by pensioners,” said Clare Martin, CEO, ACOSS.

“But the legislation also marks an unprecedented delinking of the sole parent pension from other pensions and means sole parents will no longer receive the same support as other pensioners.”

“Whether you are an aged pensioner or a single parent pensioner, living costs – the price of groceries, fuel and rent – are the same. Yet under this legislation a sole parent family receives $43 a week less than other single pensioners. This is simply inequitable.”

“Single jobless people on Newstart Allowance have also been overlooked and will receive $106 per week less than a single pensioner. Research cited by the Harmer Report shows the cost of living is actually higher for unemployed people due to the costs of job search.”

“Any policy that allows the incomes of sole parents and unemployed people to fall behind those of the community generally will almost inevitably lead to an increase in child poverty. To rob low income families to pay pensioners is unnecessary and inequitable.”

“It is clear from research on financial hardship in Australia, and from our members including emergency relief providers, that these groups face at least the same risk of deprivation, if not a greater one, than age pensioners.”

Research by the Social Policy Research Centre that examined the number of essential items that different groups in the community lacked found that 19% of single mature age people could not afford three or more essential items (for example, a decent and secure home) compared to 8% of mature couples, 54% of unemployed people, 49% of sole parents, and 27% of people with disabilities. A major factor leading to financial hardship among the latter three groups is that a high proportion rent their housing.

Read the submission to the Inquiry here.