Friday, November 23, 2012

Changes to Parenting Payment

I've just been down at Centrelink, learning about how my parenting payments will stop. Yes, I'm one of those people caught up in the 'grandfather' clause. And yes, I'll receive a pay-cut next year - right when there are more expenses and not as much income.

But this isn't a self-pitying post. If anything, I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I am working, so it won't make as much of an impact on me as other people. I feel lucky that I work from home, which gives me greater flexibility. I feel lucky that my children are relatively old (11 and 13), which gives me more ability to find work, without having to limit it necessarily to school hours. And I feel extremely lucky that I was able to be there for them in the afternoons up until now.

Many people aren't so lucky. For a parent who is not working, the changes to parenting payment mean a cut of $130. That's an awful lot of money for someone who isn't earning very much to begin with. And it comes at a very expensive time - right after Christmas and just before back-to-school buying.

Plus, it's during school holidays. If someone is lucky enough to get a job straight away, by the time they pay for holiday childcare, they may end up with less than they were receiving on parenting payment. Some parents may decide they have no choice except to wait until after school holidays to look for a job. And school holidays often involve plans to do things with the children - plans that may now need to be changed. And as any parent knows, changed plans often mean disappointed kids.

Furthermore, many parents (usually mothers) will be forced to take whatever job they can find. Well that's all well and good, you might say, don't we all have to do that? Yes, but single mothers face more barriers in getting work than other people. Firstly, they need to find work that fits in with school hours and available childcare. Also, if they have been raising children for at least the past eight years, they won't have the same recent experience and relevant skills as other people. This makes them less employable.

Many current recipients of parenting payment may be using their 'child-rearing' years to study and/or do volunteer work to help them get the job they want once their children are older. Now, they will be forced into getting whatever job they can. And if they're working full-time, and raising children by themselves, that doesn't leave much time ever to improve their skills or study until the children are older.

Plus, some of that re-training is in the form of volunteer work. Many of our schools would not function if it were not for the volunteer work done by parents. We need volunteers. What happens to school if there isn't the same base of 'volunteer mothers' to draw from?  

And that's not even the most important impact that the changes to parenting payment will have. The most important impact is that many parents will now be forced to spend less time with their kids. And quite honestly, I think that's ridiculous.

I said up above that I am extremely grateful that I have been able to be there in the afternoons for my children. It has often put a strain on the budget. But that time is so valuable. I wouldn't exchange it for anything. And honestly I think the loss of the income I could have made if I was more prepared to put them in childcare and work full-time was a small price to pay.

And that's not saying that everybody should stay home with their kids. I'm lucky. I could work from home - so it's not like I wasn't working at all. Plus the fact that I'm very introverted means I can cope with working alone in a study a lot better than other people could. I don't think everybody can make the same choice I did. But I am so glad I was able to make that choice.

And isn't it better for kids to be with their parents rather than stuck in childcare - if that's what the parent wants to do? The government spends money on making sure childcare is available, when there's expert childcare providers right there in the kids' own homes - who are forced to leave the home to work. It just doesn't make sense to me.

And the kids like being with their parents too. Let's face it, wouldn't most people prefer to be with someone who loves them rather than someone who's paid to look after them? My youngest child is now 11. So he's three years' older than the age at which parenting payments stop. But he's still not too keen on me working in the afternoon. I am looking for another job now. After working from home for so long, I think it's time. And it will mean more money. But I think my youngest child still isn't quite prepared to not see me as soon as school finishes.

And now many, many kids will be denied that opportunity to spend that time with their parents. As soon as they turn eight, mum (or dad) needs to go out and get a job. And I think that's sad. I really do. I think if kids want their parent at home, and if the parent wants to be at home, then we should be doing everything to make sure that can happen - not saying, too bad, your kid's eight, go out and get a real job.

Raising children is a real job - and an extremely important one. We should be valuing the people who do it - not telling them they should be doing something different. Or do we only value childcare when it contributes to the economy?

I do need to point out that many parents have been in this situation for a while. The grandfather clause applies to all people who started receiving parenting payment before 2006. In 2006, the time at which parenting payment stopped was changed to when the youngest child turned eight. Everyone who started receiving parenting payment before then could keep receiving it until their youngest child turned 16. They've now changed it so that everybody on that 'grandfather clause' now stops receiving parenting payment if their youngest child is older than eight.

It makes it more fair - which I suppose is a good thing. But if we do want everybody to be paid under the same rule, I think we should change everybody to 16, not change everybody to eight. (I told that to the guy I was speaking to at Centrelink and he said, no, 18!)

And now that I've mentioned him, just a word on Centrelink workers before I finish. The guy I spoke to was brilliant. He was compassionate and understanding. He didn't like the changes anymore than I did. And I felt really sorry for him, because it sounded like he's been copping a lot of criticism. I think Centrelink workers in particular often receive a lot of criticism for things that aren't their fault.

Anyway, now that's said. This new policy is ridiculous. We should be rewarding parents who want to stay home with their kids. Once upon a time, women had no choice except to quit work once they fell pregnant. That was stupid too. And it needed to be changed. But instead of giving women more choices, it seems now that mothers have no choice except to work. And that's stupid too.

I am lucky. And so are my kids. I am so thankful that I was able to be there for them. I love afternoons when they come home from school. I love the opportunity to play and laugh and talk and occasionally do nothing. I love just the fact that I'm here with them. And I know they've loved it too. Everybody should get that chance.  

And yet so many kids will miss out on that. I don't think that's fair. I don't think it's right. And I think it will be detrimental to kids, to women, to families and to society.

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