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Punishing poverty

By Joel Tozer - posted Thursday, 8 July 2010

Recent legislation introduced by the Federal Government sees welfare recipients across the Northern Territory lose control of at least 50 per cent of their income.

The Income Management bill, passed in the dying days of Parliament before the winter recess, is the first step in introducing a national welfare quarantining scheme.

Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin introduced the bill with the hope that welfare payments will be spent on essentials like food and utilities, instead of alcohol, tobacco and gambling.


“The reforms aim to increase parental responsibility, fight passive welfare and protect vulnerable people especially children,” the Minister said.

But welfare groups haven’t been so quick to applaud the scheme. More than 90 submissions were given to the government opposing the reforms, with only two submissions supporting it.

"This poorly targeted, expensive scheme is a gamble with the daily lives of people on the lowest incomes, and a gamble with taxpayers’ funds," CEO of ACOSS, Clare Martin said.

With a national scheme on its way, sole parent Petra Hilton of Hornsby, Sydney is concerned that the government’s scheme will make living on welfare payments more difficult.

“It’s like the government is assuming that because I’m a single mother it must mean that I am a bad person who drinks and smokes and can’t look after her kid. It’s just not the case,” she said.

Petra says the money she receives on the parenting payment is spent on essentials like groceries and utility bills, leaving little money at the end of the week for luxuries.


“Sole parents like myself are canny shoppers because we have to be,” she said. “We get the grocery catalogue each week and my son knows he can’t ask for anything that’s not on special.”

Petra said that losing control of at least half her weekly income would impact her 13-year-old son the most who regularly needs dental work.

“Children of sole parents are already being forced to live in poverty and now the government is making it clear that their family is different to everyone else’s,” she said.

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About the Author

Joel Tozer is a Sydney-based freelance journalist.

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