Single parents on welfare must meet strong obligations to take part in short-term job activities if they are to continue receiving their benefits.
The obligations of the ParentsNext program, mainly affecting women, were introduced in July last year for all single parents receiving the parenting payment of $384.25 pw.
Parents can be placed on to the ParentsNext program once their child is six months old. When their youngest child turns eight, they are moved from the parenting payment to the lower Newstart payment.
To receive the benefit, they must follow a fortnightly plan negotiated with a case worker. Under the plan, they have to attend activities such as “story time”, swimming lessons or playgroup. Alternatively, they can sign up to education courses at their own expense.
Failure to complete the required number of hours of the activity, which they log on the MyGov website, may mean their parenting payment can be suspended or terminated.
In one case, a mother of two who was in the final year of a psychological science degree was unable to log the activity because of a fault in the MyGov website. To avoid losing her payment, she had to reduce her hours of study. It will take her two to three years to finish her degree, instead of completing it this year, gaining qualifications which make her employable.
In another case, a mother was told her five-year-old daughter had to skip kindergarten so her mother could attend library story time sessions.
According to the Guardian, government officials collected background information on Ella Buckland, a single mother leading a campaign against the program. The information included her social media activity and sexual assault allegations she had made.
The program affects nearly 70,000 Australian parents. Many have complained that the program undervalues the work of parents, and can even suggest single parents are being lazy and cheating the welfare system.
However, a spokesman for the jobs minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, said the program had helped 3,500 participants find paid work and 9,500 participate in education or training since April 2016.