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New data confirms that poverty and homelessness, like violence, is gendered

“Poverty and the risk of homelessness, like violence, is gendered,” said Anti-Poverty Week Executive Director Toni Wren.

“When women leave a violent relationship or find themselves on their own bringing up children, they’re punished with an inadequate system of income and housing support and the consequences can affect their lives deep into their retirement years.”

Analysis by Anti-Poverty Week of new Department of Social Services data finds that in December 2022:

  • Women comprise more than 60% of all those relying on the lowest income support payments – JobSeeker, student and parenting payments.
  • Less than 11% of Parenting Payment Single recipients own or are buying a home and are at the mercy of the escalating rental housing crisis. New data today shows the share of rental properties listed for under $400 a week has more than halved to 15% across most Australian capital cities over the past year.
  • Women or girls made up more than 6 in 10 clients of homelessness services in 2021-22. Yet this Government is pursuing a $65m cut in homelessness services due to its failure to continue to subsidise wages for this feminised workforce (around 75% are women).
  • Women comprise 95.5% of Parenting Payment Single recipients and are already working at one of the highest rates of any income support recipients – nearly a third have earnings from employment.
  • Single parents must transfer to JobSeeker when their youngest child turns eight. A child’s birthday dreaded by hundreds of thousands of mothers.  Transferring to JobSeeker means a cut of at least $100 a week in income support and includes a harsher income test, so they retain less of their earnings.
  • Single parents, mostly mothers are also at risk of having their family’s income suspended due to the concerning ‘Parents Next’ program which can be imposed when children are as young as nine months old.

“Single Mums don’t need Parents Next which comes from the same playbook as Robodebt.  Parents Next doesn’t need reforming, it needs to be abolished and replaced with a program of support like the effective voluntary Jobs Education Training (JET) from the 1990’s,” said Toni Wren.

Single mother of three Renee Rainbow speaking on ABC News Breakfast this week said:

“I worry about money constantly, it’s exhausting, it’s lonely, it’s non-stop, the mental worry is huge.

“I’ve stopped buying fresh vegetables, I buy frozen vegetables to make sure they last. I’m not buying meat. My kids are 14,12 and 8 and they need more school stuff.”

“I’m doing everything I can, I went and got a degree, I’m working two jobs, and yet it’s still not enough, something has to change.”

“The Federal Government can unlock poverty for hundreds of thousands of Australians with the stroke of a pen if it raises JobSeeker and related payments,” said Toni Wren.

In December there were nearly 1.4 million people relying on these low payments linked to JobSeeker, 30% of whom are parents, caring for over 830,000 children.

“When any of us face sudden catastrophic events – like losing their homes or livelihoods through floods, fires or pandemic; or when family violence shatters their lives, we rely on social security payments that are tied to the base rate of JobSeeker. It’s the critical underpinning of our safety net.”

“JobSeeker is not just helping people who are unemployed, it’s a waiting room for the age pension – half of those on Jobseeker are aged over 45 years, (28% over 55),” said Ms Wren.

“JobSeeker is also a hospital waiting room – 43% have partial capacity to work (mainly because it’s now virtually impossible to get disability pension without legal representation).

“More than 7,000 people on JobSeeker are being treated for cancer as Sickness Benefit was folded into JobSeeker in 2020,” said Ms Wren.

About 10% of people on JobSeeker (85,460) are single parents with children aged 8 or above.

Other data confirms single parents are doing it tough:

Analysis of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey by Professor Roger Wilkins (“The declining wellbeing of Single Parents in Australia in the 21st century,” UNSW Seminar 10 May 2022)  found that single parents, not just those relying on income support,

  • Are twice as likely to be caring for a child with disability – 16% compared with 8% of partnered parents. Bringing up a child with disability can be incredibly rewarding but also incredibly challenging – it can lead to relationship breakdown.
  • Had poorer health and increased prevalence of disability themselves.
  • Were less likely to be regularly receiving child support (36% in 2020 compared with 40% in 2001-03). Of those who did, received an average of 32% less in 2020 than in 2001-03 ($2,360 in 2020 compared with $3,490 in 2001-03 using December 2020 prices.)

This International Women’s Day, Anti-Poverty Week is calling on the government to act to unlock poverty and:

  • increase the adequacy of JobSeeker and family payments, so everyone can afford the basics including rent, food, medication and education
  • increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance so everyone has a safe place to call home
  • restore access to Parenting Payment Single until the youngest child turns 16, and
  • review our woefully inadequate child support scheme to reduce the number of children living in poverty.
  • Follow the lead of New Zealand and pass legislation to halve child poverty by 2030


Download transcript of Senate Inquiry hearing 27 February 2023

See full analysis of latest Department of Social Service figures here

Media Contacts:

Anti-Poverty Week Carolin Wenzel   0417 668 957 

Toni Wren, ED Anti-Poverty Week     1300 797 290