The government’s decision to raise the cut-off for the single parenting payment from eight years to 14 years announced in the budget is a significant development. This policy change, which will cost $1.9 billion through to 2026–27, demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing a better safety net for single parents and their children.
The majority of single parents, who are overwhelmingly women, will benefit from this extended eligibility. This is a great short-term solution for families and one that is desperately needed and quite overdue.
However, there are immense pitfalls in this strategy, not just for the greater public, especially the middle class, who face similar challenges, but for the long-term impact of this on the families that it benefits. You only have to look at the cost of housing to see that this is not going to meet that need.
Most of our clients have more than one child, so the extended time for them being out of the workforce means a much greater skill gap than previous generations. The speed of technology and the changes in the marketplace mean that, should these families want to engage back in the workforce, they will find it challenging, or at best, find themselves in lower-paid jobs.
For women that want to re-engage in the workforce, being able to do that is essential to their wellbeing. Many women had successful careers and found purpose and passion in the workplace. While parenting has also provided that, extended periods out of the workforce can erode their confidence and often have them settle for roles that are below their capacity when they do re-enter.
Essentially, women want to be able to contribute; they want to contribute to their family financially and find a sense of purpose outside their role as a caregiver in the workforce. Pathways to finding flexible workplaces, affordable childcare, and supportive workplaces are essential for women to re-engage.
While it is commendable that the government is investing the financial support, it also raises concerns about the potential challenge; the longer the absence from employment, the harder it can be to reintegrate, and the greater the potential skills gap will emerge.
The government needs to take bigger steps to provide support. To address the issue, it is essential for the government to allocate additional funds to support upskilling initiatives for single mothers and provide them with the necessary tools and resources to succeed in the job market. From a national perspective, responding to the skills shortage is crucial for fostering economic growth and prosperity.
It is imperative to acknowledge that financial assistance alone is not sufficient to address the long-term obstacles faced by parents re-entering the workforce. To ensure sustainable employment opportunities and bridge the skills gap, the government needs to prioritise investment in training and upskilling programs specifically designed for parents.
Retraining and upskilling parents, including single mothers, can bring several benefits as they consider returning to work when their children get older.
Firstly, participating in retraining and upskilling programs enhances parents’ employability by equipping them with new or updated skills that are in demand in the job market. This significantly increases their chances of finding suitable employment opportunities.
Perhaps even more importantly, these programs boost parents’ confidence in their abilities and increase their self-esteem, and they feel more prepared and competent when seeking employment opportunities. With increased confidence, parents can approach the job market feeling more self-assured.
Acquiring new skills enables them to explore different industries or occupations that align with their interests and goals, expanding their job opportunities. The broader range of options increases their chances of finding fulfilling employment and pursuing careers that match their skill sets and aspirations. It can also lead to higher earning potential for parents, which benefits the families, but also contributes to reducing income inequality and fosters a more prosperous society.
The Australian labour market has identified several sectors that are projected to be in high demand until late 2023, including healthcare and social assistance, professional, scientific and technical services, and education and training. By aligning upskilling programs with the needs of these industries, parents can be equipped to meet the demands of the job market and contribute to the growth of these critical sectors.
Addressing the skills shortage requires a comprehensive approach that combines financial support with targeted upskilling initiatives. By investing in programs that enhance employability, increase confidence, expand job opportunities, and adapt to the changing job market, the government can empower parents, including single mothers, to re-enter the workforce with confidence.
This investment will not only benefit individual parents but also contribute to building a skilled and inclusive workforce that drives economic growth and creates a brighter future for all.
By Jennifer Gurry, founder and chief executive, Diamond Women
The term "workforce" or "labour force" refers to the group of people who are either employed or unemployed.
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