It is amazing that the ongoing problem regarding child-care in this country has been targeted by women’s groups, parental groups and child care providers for the last few years but is only now receiving attention.
On a Channel 10 daytime program recently one of the presenters complained that the program had been inundated with this and related topics for the past two weeks.
For those who have been trying to alert the community to this problem for the past few years, it is little comfort that the crisis that has been predicted is now upon us and people are at last demanding action.
It is unfortunate, however, that while middle class parents are now stridently demanding such basic rights for their children, one of the most needy sectors of the community continues to be marginalised.
Single parents on benefits, the majority of whom are female, still see no relief in sight. Yet it is this sector which has been targeted in the drive to return to the workforce in legislation which comes into effect this month. Although there are some fathers who fall into this category, the initiative in some quarters has been referred to as a project to get “mums off their bums”.
While those not affected by the proposed legislation have heralded it as a good move, unemployed single mothers have been trying to draw attention to the seemingly insurmountable hurdles inherent in such an initiative. The number one concern has always been the lack of child care facilities.
“Mums off their bums” was presented by government as sound economics: unproductive members of the community would no longer be draining money from the workers. Single mothers who objected therefore were double damned as depriving the community both of skilled work and, more importantly, of tax dollars.
While Government continues to ignore the changing demographics concerning the unemployed it is inevitable that the community at large seems similarly unaware. The idea of the feckless young woman who deliberately seeks pregnancy as a passport to the cushy life seems to dominate public ideology.
It is possible to regard the promulgation of this construct as a deliberate ploy: while the unemployed are regarded as deliberately choosing poverty, the rest of the community is assured that being part of the workforce not only gives them ethical superiority but immunity from poverty.
The majority of young women, whatever their social status, have the same dreams concerning motherhood. Whether they opt for the white picket fence or the working mother dream they usually have one thing in common - they imagine a partner. It is doubtful whether any pupil of either public or private schools would list their ambition as spending their life as a single parent in poverty. For, despite the rhetoric, to live on single parent benefits is to live on poverty.
Unlike those who are simply unemployed, those who are both single parents and unemployed have very little chance of improving their lot. They will never be able to own their own home. In fact even renting for a single parent is problematic and, in some areas, impossible. The majority will not even be able to own a car, afford insurance, have any choice in their children’s schooling, provide orthodontic care, or go on holiday.
It is both unrealistic and unfair to assume that such parents do not want what is best for their children: but a job which lifts them above the poverty level is, for many, an impossible dream.
The new initiative does not offer careers for single parents - it offers jobs. In order to comply with the “mums off bums” initiatives women will be penalised if they do not become cleaners, kitchen hands and waitresses for a minimum wage regardless of their qualifications or suitability.
Without child care single parents of small children will continue to be unable to work at all while those with pre-teen or teenage children will be forced to leave their children unsupervised in a community which is not at all child-friendly - for a wage which will never enable them to access the safe environment of supervised care.
While the debate rages about whether to restrict child care facilities for non-working "ladies who lunch", one sector of the community whose right to child-care facilities is unarguable, continues to be ignored.
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