Long overdue overhaul of punitive ParentsNext welcomed but change must come quickly

ACOSS welcomes the well-considered recommendations of the Workforce Australia Committee’s report to replace the harmful ParentsNext program with a new service called ‘Your Future Planning’.

The Committee has set out a new vision for the important support that enables parents to enter the workforce when their children reach school age.

This comes in the wake of years of advocacy by ACOSS, single parent and community organisations to remove pointless and intrusive activity requirements for parents with children as young as nine months, enforced by threats of income support payment suspensions.

Alongside this welcome proposal for reform, ACOSS is concerned that the Committee proposes that compulsory quarterly meetings will continue for parents with children aged 3 and above, albeit with partial payment suspensions administered by officials at Services Australia rather than non-government providers or the IT system.

The Government should ensure that the important co-design process of the new Your Future Planning service does not unnecessarily delay the positive and urgently needed changes recommended by the Committee.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

‘‘The committee’s recommendations will go a long way towards removing the most punitive aspects of ParentsNext such as payment suspensions for not reporting attendance at playgroups and other pre-school activities.

“This makes room for a new service that parents can experience as a positive help to prepare for their future careers, rather than a threat to the income support they need right now to make ends meet whilst caring for their young children. ACOSS has argued consistently for voluntary rather than compulsory prevocational support for parents with young children.

“It is important that those changes happen quickly, rather than waiting for the replacement program to commence.

“The 100,000 parents – mostly single mothers – who are currently subject to these arrangements can’t wait 6-12 months or more for these changes to bring relief.

“Parents with children aged under three should be offered the opportunity to exit the program now, and payment suspensions under the Targeted Compliance Program should be removed.”

The most welcome of the Committee’s recommendations are that:

  • harmful reporting requirements and automated payment suspensions under the Targeted Compliance Framework are removed;
  • the service will no longer be targeted at parents with children under the age of 3;
  • there will be more professional support service to enable people to enter the workforce, with greater discretions for staff to provide exemptions.