Summer holiday fun? Not for Dale's family

My heart is currently being broken by a woman called Dale. She doesn’t exist (don’t judge!) except as a terse two-paragraph example on the Inland Revenue (IRD) website. But even through the bureaucrat-ese, Dale’s compassion and humanity shines. Dale, IRD tells me, “is a single parent who works as a teacher aide for 22 hours a week”. What a wonderful person! I imagine that she works at her children’s school, that she was overjoyed to find work where the hours fit in with her parenting time (so rare!), that she is a patient teacher aide for a pupil with learning disabilities, and that she also helps out on the white elephant stall at the school fair. Tell me more, IRD!

In no-nonsense, sans-serif font, the IRD obliges: “She's contracted to work for the school from February to December...” Oh no! That leaves Dale without a job over Christmas and January, a difficult time to find temporary employment, particularly when there are kids to look after. Luckily we live in a civilised country where state welfare will help her support her children over the break, ay? (This is only necessary because the school doesn’t employ her on a permanent, salaried basis – but that’s another story.)

Hopefully Dale doesn’t share my silly assumption. Maybe Work and Income will help her out to a certain extent over summer – with hoops, hooks and harassment  – but IRD certainly won’t. In fact, the whole point of IRD making an example out of Dale is to show that the IRD taketh away, that their usual level of support actually decreases. As a solo parent (of children under 18) who works over 20 hours a week, Dale is usually entitled to receive a Working for Families 'In-Work tax credit' worth $72.50 a week. This is a huge proportion of her income, but during the summer holidays, she loses this sum as well as her wages. Why? Because she’s not contracted to work at that time, and therefore she’s ineligible for this family support.

Family support and employment incentives should be separate initiatives: the “parents must work for money” demand of Working for Families is counter-intuitive. The financial lure to work should not be pegged to the number of kids you have – all else being equal, the more children you have, the more likely it is that spending a large number of job hours away from your family will be inappropriate. And, by the way, isn’t it up to employers to pay enough to incentivise people to work for them? Working for Families is an overt instance of corporate welfare.

All low-income families should be able to access family support, regardless of the source of their income. But this is not the case: just when Dale needs it most, government assistance supposedly given to help her keep her kids clothed, fed and housed is taken away. And so my heart tears a little.

This month, CPAG has started a campaign to Fix Working for Families. Find out about its goals and how you can help here

Janet is a culture and society commentator/essayist who currently writes Cultural Baggage columns for Metro magazine.