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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Government payment cuts threaten single-income families

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Children in two-parent families don’t deserve government support. That’s the message the Government and Opposition sent last month when they passed legislation to cut family payments for two-parent families, while other families still get cash payments.

Government amendments to secure Labor Party support resulted in the bizarre situation where a sole parent earning up to $100,000 per year will continue to receive Family Tax Benefit Part B and an annual supplement of $3091.55 per year when their youngest child turns 13, while a single breadwinner couple family on $40,000 per year, or, worse, unemployed, will have their payment cut when their youngest turns 13. This means the single breadwinner couple family will lose a payment worth $74.83 per week.

Family payments should not be cut for anyone, especially low-income families.

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Why are the major parties targeting two-parent families? The Government believes that the only developmental support a child needs is a household income. The value of close family relationships which can only be nurtured when parents and their children have time together is, in the view of the Government, marginal.

The Government is using economic coercion to force more parents into the workforce or to join the ranks of the unemployed, not because they are concerned for the welfare of children but because the Government hopes to make savings to spend elsewhere.

Children should not be discriminated against because they have two parents. Some families are willing to make financial sacrifices to have one parent at home.

These cuts will strip families of the capacity to exercise choice. Families who want to provide for the welfare of their children by being at home will no longer have this option when their youngest child turns 13.

The Government has provided little justification for moving away from the longstanding policy that family payments are made in recognition of the extra costs that families face compared to others with similar income.

The disparity means two-parent families will be better off financially if they separated. Is that the kind of incentive we want built into government programs?

The family payments are a legacy of the Howard Government, building on the work of the Keating Government and federal governments dating back to 1936.

Former Prime Minister John Howard argued, “it is sound public policy to ensure that taxpayers who carry heavier family responsibilities than other taxpayers, at the same level of income, should receive some support through the taxation system for carrying those responsibilities. … Surely it is in the national interest to encourage childbearing, to help with the cost of raising children and also to recognise the contribution made to society by those who care and provide for others out of their income?”

One of the problems with recent policies from both major parties is they increasingly see families as part of the market rather than fundamental building blocks of our communities that need to be supported. Families and communities are in fact undermined by the market.

Governments of both persuasions are now putting pressure on all parents to find a paying job, even if there’s already a breadwinner in the family.

The need to balance work and family life used to be the barbecue-stopper conversation that focused the minds of governments. The Australian Government needs to acknowledge that while work is vital for any family, too much work, or the ‘wrong’ work at unsocial hours, or involving excessive travel time has the real capacity to damage families.

Many low-income working families are already living in poverty. The new laws will put more children into poverty and those already in poverty will be in deeper poverty.

Priority needs to be given to protecting children against poverty not just increasing the workforce.

These changes were not foreshadowed at the last election.

Children in two-parent families do not deserve this discrimination. Government payments should recognise the extra costs that families face compared to others with similar income, and the benefits families with children contribute to the nation.

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