Advocacy Answered: Why was Parents Next a ‘punitive’ policy measure?

26 May 2023

ParentsNext was intended to be a pre-employment program to assist young parents, mostly single mothers, gain the skills needed to be work ready by the time their children entered school. The program tied receipt of the Parenting Payment to the compulsory completion of ‘job ready’ activities, a catch-all term that included activities such as volunteering and attending playgroup and swimming lessons.

The program was criticised as being punitive with “overly harsh” penalties, including suspension of the Parenting Payment, for non-compliance. The majority of single parents signed up to Parents Next were mothers, because single mothers are the largest cohort of single parents. The foundational premise of Parents Next meant it was always going to impact disproportionately on single mothers.

Many parents were effectively forced to sign up to ‘activities’ like swim classes or play groups, that provided no tangible benefit to their job-ready status or risk losing their payment. Other parents who asked for discernibly job-ready activities like ‘driving lessons’ to be counted, were told it was not an eligible option.

Further, the program failed to recognise parenting as a valuable contribution to Australia’s future economy and lacked a trauma-informed awareness that many single mothers are survivors of domestic and family violence.

The abolition of this program is set to be replaced by a voluntary, co-designed program from 2024.

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