This year's Commonwealth Budget sees a number of initiatives focussed on long-term welfare dependency (some seeking to prevent it, some to overcome it), along with the identification of ten disadvantaged regions, in which specific targeted programs will operate.
These range of initiatives are to 'help people living in communities with high rates of entrenched disadvantage', and to 'tackle the challenge of intergenerational welfare dependence.'
The focus on teenage parents will cost $47million over four years, and seeks to ensure 'teenage parents finish school and support their children.'
For 'teenage parents' read 'teenage mothers'. The program seemingly has no focus on the fathers (some of whom, of course, may not be teens).
The young single mum receiving Parenting Payment, with a child six months or older, will be required to attend compulsory support and engagement interviews with Centrelink until they complete Year 12 or equivalent, or until the youngest child turns six.
Teen parents will be required to undertake compulsory activities from when their child is one year old. Throughout, they will be required to work with Centrelink to develop a participation plan that includes compulsory education activities designed to support them in their parenting role or to help them gain a good education.
If they do not engage with Centrelink when required, without a reasonable excuse, they will have their income support payment suspended until they re-engage.
For other (older) single mums, outside these ten areas, there are to be incentives to do more work through the easing of taper rates on withdrawal of benefit.
There are other programs to be put into place in the ten regions identified. For example, parents who have been on income support for more than two years, or who are under 23 and are not currently working of studying full time, will be required to meet regularly with Centrelink through interviews and workshops to plan for their return to work. They will, as will the teenage parents, be able to access Communities for Children services, and assistance with the costs of child-care for up to 52 weeks.
It isn't clear how adequate the supply of child-care is in these regions, but it is also clear that these are regions with high levels of unemployment, and a potential shortage of jobs suited to the needs of these young people.
There is a great deal of sense in developing targeted initiatives in areas of disadvantage in preference to universal programs. A suite of coordinated measures can be brought together to complement each other. Ideas can be tested and evaluated. Special collaborative arrangements with government and non government agencies can be brought together.
In some of these disadvantaged regions there may well be patterns of inter-generational welfare dependency, and an associated lack of familial role models with regular employment.
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