Less JobSeeker = Worse Child Nutrition

With cuts to JobSeeker looming, timely research has been published on food provisioning by single mothers who depend on welfare payments. Unsurprisingly, the Swinburne-based team found that “when women were transferred onto the less generous unemployment benefit [i.e., today’s JobSeeker], food provisioning became more psychologically taxing and nutritional health decreased.”

Research in the field shows that “single mothers routinely sacrifice their own nutritional health to feed their children.” As one Melbourne single mother told the Swinburne researchers, “You know when you’re on a plane and they say, ‘Put your own mask on before those of your children’? In real life, it doesn’t work that way. You put the mask on the children first and then on yourself.”

Can Mothers Feed Their Children on JobSeeker?

Prior to 2006, single mothers were eligible for a means-tested parenting payment until their youngest child turned 16. During the Howard years, however, that age was reduced to eight.

In other words, once their youngest child turns eight, the payment that acknowledged their care work disappears. This means that there are now many single mothers raising young children who are only eligible for Newstart/JobSeeker.

The parenting payment is currently $790 per fortnight, while JobSeeker is $565. Recipients of these payments currently get the coronavirus supplement of $550, which is being reduced to $250 from 24 September, and potentially phased out after 31 December.

For the Melbourne women interviewed by the Swinburne researchers, it was a stressful and occasionally desperate time when their youngest child approached the age of 8. 

Sometimes there’s only leftovers and I’ll give it all to the kids.

These mothers all shopped at multiple different outlets (supermarket, co-ops, foodbanks) seeking the cheapest prices. Many spent their entire Sunday cooking and freezing meals for the week ahead, if they could manage to keep money aside to buy in bulk.

But such coping mechanisms were a constant struggle. As one study participant said, “It’s always being on the precipice, um, so yeah, it’s a huge amount of time in the thinking about the food, the preparing of it, and always just going in with – to shop with the intention to buy as little as possible.”

One of my children got quite sick, and it turned out she was iron deficient. We weren’t eating enough red meat, because, you know, $27 a kilo, who can afford that?

Time constraints were a running theme in the study. Currently, single mothers with their youngest child over the age of six also have to participate in a “skills and education” program called ParentsNext.

If they miss meetings with their ParentsNext “adviser” they can be cut off welfare, and also have to meet targets for number of a job applications per week. These hoops are plainly absurd when we all know there are many more people jobless than there are jobs available.

If I was to provide food that was adequately nutritional and filling for all four of us, I wouldn’t be able to pay any of my bills at all. . . Um, so something has to give there, [and] it comes back to me.

This punitive attitude toward the welfare system will surely come to an end eventually. The only question is how much longer people will be made to suffer before it does?