Mums need to be supported, not punished

The kaupapa of Auckland Women’s Centre is to facilitate the wellbeing and empowerment of women, especially beneficiaries and other women on low-incomes, and we are honoured to work alongside other organisations whose kaupapa reflects a shared vision for women in poverty, such as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). In hosting the recent launch of CPAG’s latest report Kathryn’s Story, we celebrated these women of strength and our united cause, to obtain a better future for all mothers, by highlighting the injustices our social security systems impose upon them.

The Centre has had a long involvement with single mums. In 1975 when we were set up by the Auckland Women’s Liberation Group, one of the groups that shared our house was the Council for the Single Mother and her Child. Today we work with many single mums – we have a large single mums Positive Parenting Project and many single mums contact our Women’s Support Service – for free support, information, advice and referral. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to advocate for single mums with Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ). We refer these women to Auckland Action against Poverty (AAAP) and are very grateful for the service AAAP provides.

The recurring messages we hear from single mums on the Sole Parent Support (SPS) benefit are:

1) They believe that parenting alone is very important work and they wish the Government would also recognise this.
2) The amount of money they receive from WINZ is simply not enough for their family to live on. Rents have risen rapidly and are so high that the accommodation supplement does not begin to cover even half of that expense.
3) They are confused and stressed by the requirement not to be in a relationship in the nature of a marriage. They say - What if my boyfriend and I want to stay the night together a few nights a week? Will somebody tell WINZ we are living together even though we are not? If I am accused of living with my boyfriend how do I prove that I am not? They believe that by WINZ encouraging neighbours to dob them in - this undermines community building in their neighbourhood and further increases single mums’ isolation.
4) Many of the single mums we work with are domestic violence survivors (some of whom are still subject to power and control by their ex-partners, especially through the family courts and by using the children). They don’t currently feel strong enough to re-enter paid work and they don’t want to talk to a stranger at WINZ about their violent experiences.  
5) They feel stressed about the work obligations – where will they get work? What impact will it have on their child? How will they cope with Auckland’s traffic congestion, the cost of public transport? Many who have cars have to severely limit their movements because they don’t have enough petrol. Working 20 hours once their child is three years old is unrealistic for many single mums. Children often get sick and part time work that pays a living wage is difficult to find. The work obligations put stress on mums which affects their children.
6) Single mums who have some sort of qualification tell us that WINZ tries to pressure them into work well before their youngest child has turned three years old.  For example,  “X”  has two children, aged two and eight.

She also lives with and looks after her ageing parents, as well as her niece. Her grandfather recently died and as the only driver in the whanau she visits her elderly nana regularly, takes her parents to hospital, doctor’s appointments and does the food shopping etc. As part of her ‘getting ready for work’ obligations from WINZ, she has been made to participate in a WINZ course for three days a week and is constantly being pressured to get full-time work. Her 20 hours of work obligation doesn’t start for another 12 months.
7) Many want paid part-time work but and for most combining paid work with the benefit means they are financially worse off – this feels like a kick in the guts – when they are being pressured into paid work but it doesn’t advantage their family. It makes absolutely no sense to single mums why the system is like this.  The added cost of childcare, transport, clothing and the unpaid time getting to and from work can have a huge negative impact the finances of a single mum.

Auckland Women’s Centre salutes and celebrates single mums. On Mother’s Day each year we hold a big party for single mums and their children where single-mother families celebrate together. They rejoice in the fact that they are providing a loving home for their children all by themselves and often against the odds.