Contentious Newstart to the year

THE decision by the federal government to move more than 80,000 single parents from the parenting payment to a lower Newstart allowance on January 1 was indeed controversial.

It could mean that some single parents will be up to $110 a week worse off when their child turns eight and Newstart allowance kicks in.

The announcement was botched from the start by Families Minister Jenny Macklin whose message was lost in her boast that she could live off the $35-a-day Newstart allowance.

It was a no win question really - if you say that you cannot live off $35 a day then why impose it on others; if you say that you can then the challenges fly from all angles.

Ms Macklin was an easy target considering that she earns $903 a day and saying that she could live off $35 a day only riled welfare agencies.

There were also mixed messages. Is the change primarily designed to save the government $728 million over four years or to encourage single mothers to get back to work?

Ms Macklin makes the valid observation that getting single parents back into the workforce is "better for the family" and that children would have better role models if their parents were employed.

"Unfortunately we have far too many children growing up in families where nobody is working," she said

As a general aspiration this rings true but sometimes the reality is far different.

In Tasmania about 1600 single parents will be affected by the change and the majority of them will be women.

With the loss of 9000 jobs in Tasmania in recent years the prospects of a single mother, with a primary school age child, finding work is pretty tough.

Welfare agencies are already stretched to the limit and this switch will increase the queues.

This move will cause the federal government grief because it is central to Labor values, however, maybe it was time for some tough love.

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