Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra


Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Change the lives of single mothers and their children

Apr 14, 2023 | Opinion, Power, Domestic abuse, Gender, Parenting, Safety, Law, Poverty, Commentary, Family, Policy, Money and Finance, Equality, Mothering, Feature

Written by Terese Edwards

 As the next Federal Budget looms, the non-profit Single Mother Families Australia is calling for an “end policy induced poverty.” The CEO, Terese Edwards, explains.

Single mother families seek respect, hope, and access to the parenting payment single. Single mothers cannot celebrate their child’s 8th birthday, are reclassified as unemployed at this point in time, and are no longer eligible for parenting payment. This is a policy decision that is at odds with the various States and Territories child protection systems.

Three mornings a week I leave my 14-year-old to get Ms 9-year-old and herself ready for school. I hate it, its too much responsibility.  I take three short casual shifts every week.  I never miss, it is the difference between living with poverty and or not surviving. We don’t tell anyone, its is our poverty secret. Since we lost the parenting payment, I don’t see a future. – Kiara, February 2023

Similar stories echo the reality that that every year, thousands of women in Australia are forced to choose between remaining in an abusive relationship or leaving and facing a 50 per cent chance of living in poverty due to current government policies.

Research by Professor Anne Summers AO shows that as many as 60 per cent of single mothers are single because they fled violence.

The policy decision [to stop parenting payments at eight years] also delays women from leaving, and it forces women to return to the place of abuse and to the hands of their abuser.

We were doing okay, we had just started to feel safe, not jumping so much at shadows or when someone who looks like him walks quickly towards us. We were doing okay until my twin boys turned eight.  We had about 6 months of lending money from family and friends but that has long since stopped.  The boys gave up footy, we gave up Jessie (our beloved dog) we don’t have anymore to give up.  Do I give up our safety?  – (name removed) January 2023

How did it start?

It commenced under the Howard-era Welfare to Work reforms and was then accelerated by the Gillard Government (2013). The ‘reform’ required single parents to get a paid job once their youngest child turned eight. 

It just moved them – overwhelmingly mothers – to the lower JobSeeker payments (previously Newstart Allowance), disastrously impacting single mothers’ ability to improve their economic circumstances.

I am writing to you as I was a single mother through the mid 1980s and early 1990s.  I had access to the Sole Parent Pension. I juggled every cent, but we made it, I also had free child care and training through a scheme called Jobs Education Training (something like that).  I got my nursing qualifications; I raised three well-adjusted outstanding young adults all with wonderful careers and full of passion and energy. I don’t understand how cruel it is now. Why? – Victoria Beattie February 2022


Terese says single mothers cannot celebrate their child's 8th birthday because they are reclassified as unemployed, and are no longer eligible for parenting payment. Picture: Supplied

Terese Edwards says single mothers cannot celebrate their child’s 8th birthday because they are reclassified as unemployed, and are no longer eligible for parenting payment. Picture: Supplied

Economic Survival & Mutual Obligations

Skipping meals, limiting heating and cooling, and missing medical appointments is not enough. Hardship is standard despite the skills, talents, and determination of the mother. It has been harsh. ParentsNext suspended 160,000+ payments in less than three years to mums with babies and very young children. Mutual obligations are out of step with single mothers’ lives and are based on the belief that hardship equates to a lack of ambition or determination. 

It ignores the reality that the hardship has prevented women from finishing degrees and makes it tough to get that second-paid job while they do the most critical job, single mothering. Social security payments must be uncoupled from mutual obligations. Parents will engage with study, job readiness and paid work when the time is right for their family and circumstances.

I am one of those mums, a woman who was upskilling, I had 10 years out of the paid workforce. I enrolled, I had two years remaining when I got a letter, giving me four weeks’ notice that I was going to be moved onto Jobseeker.  Two years left! I had done four years part-time. I kept going for the first year on Jobseeker but was slipping behind and falling into debt. Then reality hit when I could not afford a new tyer for the car. I was shaking as I read the letter, four weeks’ notice and our life changed, I am now without a career and with HECS debt.  My family is lost and stuck.  Julian Williams [ff1] March 2023

It hurts.

While 80% of all Australian single parent families are female, more than 95% of the poorest single parent families, those who rely on inadequate income support payments, are headed by women. The deepest pain is when their children know of the poverty; they hide their school notes and pretend they don’t want to play sport or that their school shoes still fit. We lose the talents and skills of the next generation, and it robs children of childhood.

I argued and argued to keep him at school, he was one of those magical kids. Kind, good at school and without trying so hard. We live in regional NSW; he was going to be a Vet. He now works at our local bakery on some sort of junior wage, it helps to keep a roof over our head. Petrol and groceries are so expensive here. He pretends that he does not miss his friends, or he is not sad, and I pretend that I don’t see him cry. – Chole, March 2023

We should be ashamed.

Single mums are unique and determined, but decisions they had no power over harmed their families. We call on the Albanese government to restore single mothers – the majority of whom are single because they have left violent relationships – to dignity and financial security.

In 2023, single mothers are less supported than 50 years ago. They often cannot pay their rent, their phone bills, or register their cars. Healthcare and food are a luxury and skipped when not affordable. Approximately 16% of single parent families include a child with a disability, compared with about 8% of couple-parent families and 24% of single parents have moderate or severe disability compared with 9% of partnered parents.

ACOSS identified that people receiving Parenting Payment (mostly women) were $246 per week below the poverty line and by type, poverty rates are: 

  •  60% of people receiving JobSeeker Payment
  • 72% of people receiving Parenting Payment
  • 18% of households where the primary income earner is a woman living in poverty, compared with 10% of households where the main income earner is a man. 

As some have said before me, we force women to work as if they don’t have children and to parent as if they don’t have a job. And then on top of this, we ignore the uniqueness, the joy, the exhaustion, and work of single mothering.

Single Mother Families Australia are just one of many voices who are asking the Government to make the right decision this budget. It has been a long and bleak journey for too many. We are asking for the following. 

1.   Restoring eligibility for the Parenting Payment Single (PPS) allowance to all single parents until their youngest child reaches 16 or is still in high school.

2.   Increasing the PPS to equal the Age Pension single rate.

3.   Indexing and benchmarking the PPS the same as pensions

Find out more about the work we’re doing here. 

  • Please note: picture at top is a stock photo.


Terese Edwards has been the Chief Executive of Single Mother Families Australia since 2009. She was also appointed to the Women`s Economic Equality Taskforce. She's active in civic society with formal roles with Economic Security 4 Women and the Australian Women against Violence Alliance.

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