Dole sanction delay 'prolonging something harmful to vulnerable families'
Sarah Robson, social issues reporter
A solo mum who's had her benefit cut by $28 a week for six-and-a-half years says the government is waiting too long to scrap the sanction that's leaving her out of pocket.
The government has announced that the dole sanction on solo parents who don't name the other parent will be repealed in April next year, but that doesn't help those struggling now. Photo: Max Pixel
In its report released earlier this month, the welfare expert advisory group called for immediate changes to the sanctions and obligations regime.
It said the sanction on sole parents who don't name the other parent should be removed - endorsing one of the Labour Party's pre-election promises.
The government has announced that the sanction will be repealed in April next year, but solo mum of two Josephine* said that was not soon enough.
"I'm losing $28 a week and that's a lot of money for someone on the sole parent benefit, but there's nothing that compares to the safety of my family."
Josephine chose not to name the father of her youngest child on his birth certificate, to ensure she would have full custody of him.
But she said there were times she wished she had the extra money in her pocket.
"Every time my card declines, every time I say 'oh kids, no we won't do that' because I know I don't have enough petrol in the car, every time I chose to buy something that's not as healthy for the children because it's all I can afford; every time that happens, I go 'gee, another $28 and I could have made a better choice for my family'."
Josephine said she couldn't understand why the government was waiting until April 2020 to repeal the sanction.
"I don't understand why they're prolonging something that is so clearly harmful to vulnerable families."
Mike O'Brien from the Child Poverty Action Group agreed.
"Given the levels of poverty which we knew, which the advisory group confirmed in their own work on living standards, the immediate removal of the sanctions and doing that across all sanctions is something that could and should have been done quite quickly."
Ang Jury from Women's Refuge said the removal of the sanction was something they had been pushing for for a long time.
"The impact that it has is that [sole parents] are on a reduced income and that's a reduction on an income that's already manifestly inadequate. That's not good for them or their children."
Dr Jury said she would have liked to have seen the sanction scraped sooner, but understood the Government would be facing competing budget priorities.
When the Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced the repeal of the sanction, she said it would not be retrospective, meaning women won't automatically be back-paid.
Dr Jury said that's something the government should have considered.
"It would have been nice had they looked at that, and I would imagine it wouldn't have been a massive amount of money, but it would have been money that would have been quite useful to those women."
While she was pleased action was finally being taken, Josephine said the delay had lessened her faith in the government.
"This is the one political thing I've been following and it's been years. No one's arguing that beneficiaries don't have enough money to get by, so why would they spend so long punishing vulnerable families for something that is actually not in their control."
The welfare expert advisory group made more than 40 recommendations about how to overhaul the system.
It said the welfare system was no longer fit for purpose and needed fundamental change.
The government has said it will take a phased approach to any reforms, but it hasn't set a timeframe on when any more announcements will be made.
It hasn't said whether the wellbeing budget would include further support.