Sunday, 4 January 2015

Let’s talk about privilege and single parents - The AIM Network

Let’s talk about privilege and single parents - The AIM Network

Let’s talk about privilege and single parents

The Social Discourse and Welfare

Whilst doing my research for my most recent blog post,
 I analysed a range of opinions throughout social media on the topic of
contraception and welfare. Naturally, these threads across various
pages gathered the opinions of those not on welfare and those who
are. Comments on social media give one an insight into the thoughts of a
wide and varied demographic.  Often thoughts on social media are
contained to a particular thread on a particular topic; so it is always
interesting to view the differences of opinion from many on that
particular subject.  This is particularly evident when it is a newspaper
forum, or another general page which attracts a diverse range of
people.  People will group together on opinion and often there are long
debates from those for or against a particular opinion. I love reading
the opinions of people on social media, as narrative or discourse, gives
us a glimpse of the social psyche.

Social discourse is a key element to social change.  Many of the
comments from people, as per my last blog post, painted those on welfare
in a very negative light.  In fact, the ones highlighted were of the
very strong view that those on welfare “should not breed”. The Liberal
National Coalition (LNP) Government has a very strong discourse on
punitive measures aimed to punish people on welfare and sets
this standard, through their unfair cuts to welfare and treatment of jobseekers.

Newspapers and media also seem to slant their stories to the
negative. There were many comments highlighting that Sunrise had posted
the ‘welfare and contraception’ story three different times on their
Facebook page. In my local regional newspaper today, there is an
prominent article with the headline “Hard-working Australian culture fading away” which has a 20 year old mechanic front and centre telling people to “not cry poor and go out a get a job” and “I don’t believe for a second there’s no work out there”.

This is in spite of the unemployment rate being 6.3% nationally,
youth unemployment sitting nationally at 14% nationally and being as
high as 29.3% in outback South Australia, 26.7% in south east Tasmania
and 21.3% in Cairns. This is also in spite of skills shortages in 2014
identified in specialized and professional fields as external auditor,
surveyor, sonographer, phsysiotherapist, midwife, software engineer and
construction estimator. The jobs listed as skills shortages are not jobs
that would be likely to match young people seeking employment, or
unskilled jobseekers. This means that contrary to the social discourse
occurring at present, job search is a highly competitive environment and
those with little to no skills or experience, or who face any barriers
to employment (including sole parenting), will find securing employment
very difficult.

This does not even take into account age discrimination or Indigenous
unemployment, which sits at 17.2% nationally and the Government’s
changes to programs that will greatly affect this group. These
changes show blatant changes which target people through race, which
are discriminatory as compared to other parts of Australia.

What about Sole Parents?

The blog post I researched most recently discussed the argument that
‘People on welfare should be forced to take contraception.’  Single
mothers were certainly a group raised for discussion. In particular,
young mothers featured prominently, as did women from certain suburbs in
Australia and another prominent single mother group attacked negatively
were those ‘assumed to be refugees’ or from an ethnic minority
background or non-white people.

Single Parents have only had to seek employment as part of Mutual Obligation since
the 2005 – 2006 Howard Budget. This has continued to be evolved by
successive ALP Governments since 2007 and remains as a focus for the
Abbott Government.   There have been calls from ACOSS that the inclusion of single parents in mutual obligation contravenes Human Rights Obligations.
 I strongly agree with ACOSS, not only for the economic affects
outlines, but especially for point 2, which discusses discrimination
against women:

The Bill violates the rights of single parents to non-discrimination under Art 2, paragraph 2
of the ICESCR and Art 11(1)(e) of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Since the majority of recipients are
women, they will suffer indirect gender discrimination should the Bill become law. In
addition, sole parent families, identified for special measures due to their greater
vulnerability, will suffer discrimination through the loss of these measures.

As I delved into people’s conversations on social media whilst
researching my last blog post, I noticed something quite prominent and
thematic with  young mothers and their arguments.  I was becoming
increasingly aware of the amount of young women (single mothers) who
felt the need to defend their space in society. These young women felt
the need to list every single effort they make to work in paid work,
volunteering, job search or furthering their education through study or
training.  Often, they would write a long list of work and study they
were doing at the same time, as well as caring for their child or

What this is saying to me, is that young mothers and single others
feel the need to ‘reaffirm’ or establish themselves in the eyes of the
privileged (those not a single parent) to be deemed worthy or accepted
in society.  My position is difficult here as I can only view the
conversation and not seek clarity or construct any dialogue with these
young mothers to further develop understanding; but I feel that these
young mothers feel that there are societal pressures that say that being
a mother 100% of of the time is not enough as set by the standards of
society and in the eyes of those who view them as ‘sole parents.’

One theme that was quite prominent was when young mothers did list
the whole range work or study activities they were undertaking as well
as motherhood, people congratulated them on their efforts and ‘becoming a
productive citizen.’  The comments resonated that being a mother was
not being a productive citizen. Raising other little good citizens is
being a productive citizen in itself.

I for one second do not take away any single parent’s choice to
undertake any activities to better their future for employment etc., The
key word there being choice. However, I question the need that there
may be mothers who feel they cannot be a mother only, due to the strong
social narrative that drives this pressure, which is enabled by the
Government view of single parents. Something afforded by privilege to
those who have this choice in a partnered relationship. I know many may
argue that even women in partnered relationships need to go to work; but
if a woman strongly wanted to be at home, they have the choice, through
that partnership to adapt their lifestyle, so this can be supported on
one wage in many cases.  The fact of the matter is single parents do not
have this choice even to contemplate, as that second wage is simply not

Some of the privileges afforded by those in partnered relationships
or single people with no children, who set to condemn single parents are

  • Single parents do not have the option to share the workload.

  • Single parents often have to do more than partnered parents, as all
    work, child raising and decision making are their sole responsibility

  • Single parents bear the brunt of sole financial responsibility.  If they get sick, there is no second wage to fall back on.

  • There are forced expectations by the Government of mutual obligation
    on single mothers or fathers that is not enforced onto partnered
    mothers or fathers.

  • There is a great social stigma still towards, particularly single mothers being a purposeful burden on the system

  • Economic burdens, not affording take away, making all food, not
    affording childcare, or adequate medical care, including dental as
    compared to middle to upper classes

  • There is a great social stigma about child spacing for single parents “they just pop another one out when the youngest turns six” Child spacing is a privilege afforded to partnered parents.

  • Single parents have more likely high instances of low self-efficacy and low self-esteem than partnered parents

  • Illness is a privilege afforded to those in partnered relationships.
    A single parent who falls ill still has to maintain all

  • There are many labor market constraints for single parents,
    including transport, available education, flexible work hours. In some
    cases partnered parents may face these barriers, but they have another
    partner to work with to reduce these barriers.

  • Often stigma is also with the ex-wife/ex-partner that if the father
    is raising them, there is something wrong with the mother, but that is
    rarely questioned about the father

  • Fathers are often perceived as heroes and pitied for abandonment, women are scorned, slut shamed etc.,

  • In most cases the onus of blame is placed on the woman in a relationship breakdown.

  • Single mothers experience stigma with employment, housing, applying
    for benefits, and community assistance afforded to most partnered
    couples (racial and disability discrimination acknowledged)

  • Balancing custody and career.  Often promotion means more work and
    more time away from family sole parents, both male and female risk
    custody if they are not seen to provide enough care an attention to the
    child/ren through absence to the home.  This is intensified if the other
    parent has another new partner who can does paid work. There is little
    research if this is more particularly burdensome for single mothers or
    single fathers. Career and progression is something afforded to parents
    in a partnered relationship, without the risk of losing custody of their

I will break out of the bullet points to direct attention to one that
I am most passionate about.  I will speak to this for mothers only.  I
would value input from how single fathers see this in the comments

Forced removal of the right to care for children.

Due to the mutual obligations forced upon single mothers by the
Government, single parents have no choice but to have another person
spend critical and valuable time with their child.  They do not have the
option that this may be the person they are in an intimate relationship
with as a privilege afforded to partnered mothers who desire to return
to work and have a stay at home father. Single Mothers are forced to pay
strangers to spend critical and valuable time and input in the rearing
of their child.  Not only does this take away from critical and valuable
parenting time, but places an extra financial burden on women as it
cuts into money earned from employment.

This also places an additional burden on women fleeing domestic
violence relationships and fleeing violent partners. It forces a woman
to be engaged in employment (sometimes with no phone contact as enforced
by the employer’s rules) and it creates more worry, stress and strain
on a woman already experiencing heightened anxiety and concern for the
safety of herself and her children.

I find this absolutely abhorrent that this choice is taken away from
single parents by force, rather than by choice.  It takes away one of
the most important and most treasured days of a woman’s life by force.

Single Fathers

Although the majority of single parents are mothers, single fathers
make up 12% of single parents in Australia.   Single fathers also face
particular burdens based on how society positions gender and parenting,
based on the notion that only women are the natural nurturers and men
are the breadwinners.

  • Single fathers are the loneliest and socially isolated of all types of household situation.

  • Single fathers are deemed incompetent by others, due to the
    ingrained belief that women are the natural caregivers and nurturers.

  • As per listed above, it is also unfairly assumed that the father is
    not the best option for care of the child, but must be by default.
    Society seeks to lay blame on either the mother primarily, and pities
    the father, but does not ever assume that this may be an amicable
    solution or what has been decided as a matter of choice between the
    former partnered parents.

  • Single fathers have generally lower self esteem and depression issues than men in other households

  • Affect on single fathers with balancing work choice, decision
    making, key provisions for the family, restrictions in childcare
    availability and shift work for many labouring / trades jobs

Gay and Lesbian single parents – there is more of a story to be told.

There is also appears to be an absence of research on single parents
from a breakdown of a same sex relationship.  Statistics included for
single parents are inclusive of gay and lesbian parents as statistics do
not specifically also target sexual preference.

There appears to be an abundance of literature on same sex parenting
as a dual couple. However, the absence of literature on gay and lesbian
single parents, makes for a gap in understanding the full picture of
single parents and their lived experiences.

Government Responses

The Howard Government in 2005-2006 budget papers set forth the
foundation for including single parents in mutual obligation.  
Successive ALP Governments since, have not sought to enable single
parents by repealing this legislation, but have sought to tighten this
legislation and provide even more restrictions and obstacles for single

The Abbott Government’s response is hinged on ‘family values’ but
defines this family as the predominantly white, dual parent family, with
more than likely Christian values.   Often classified as “The
traditional family.”  This is not representative of all families in

The Abbott Government has injected 20 million to “strengthen relationships and help improve personal and family well-being—it makes social and economic sense.” Because, you know single parents are a burden on society and a factor for social decline.

The Abbott Government has chosen to fund only Christian Chaplains in
schools as a pastoral mechanism. Christian Chaplains would only advocate
for traditional heterosexual relationships and traditional forms of
family through marriage.

There is a lack of investment from the Abbott Government on Domestic
Violence and funding for shelters and other programs for both women and
men and an absence of understanding of the need for shelters for men who
have experienced domestic violence or intimate partner violence.

There is an agenda of stigmatisation from the Abbott Government for
those on welfare, adding to the layers of stigmatisation experienced by
single parents, indigenous, the disabled, immigrants, people from low
socioeconomic backgrounds and people in other minority groups.

Where to from here

If this blog post has resonated with others, I would encourage
everyone to write to the Government and to both the ALP and the Greens
to advocate to have mutual obligation as a forced measure removed from
single parents and be implemented as a voluntary measure only, with no

One of the reasons behind me writing this blog post, was that I get
so disheartened from reading harsh and judgemental comments from those
in a position of privilege.   The other reason was that I really want
people to start assessing their own narrative when it comes to passing
judgement of others on welfare.

The Abbott Government through their agenda of stigmatisation has
really created a strong narrative to enable and encourage others to
stigmatise those on welfare.  If you oppose the Abbott Government, but
contribute to this stigma by adding your voice, you are really
supporting the Abbott Government by becoming a part of their agenda.
 Their agenda for stigma is strong as it paves the way for even more
harsh cuts and unfair treatment of the disadvantage as the discourse
becomes more widely sociably acceptable.

“Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.”
―Erving Goffman

Originally published on Polyfeministix

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