ONE STIGMA TO RULE THEM ALL

by Ross Sharp

Guardian Australia, August 15, 2013 …

“Seven months after being moved from single parents’ payments to the Newstart allowance, mothers have sold their furniture, re-mortgaged their homes, put their education on hold, and stopped having coffee with their friends as they learn to manage on about $500 a fortnight.

Under a policy introduced by former prime minister Julia Gillard, about 84,000 single parents – the vast majority of them women – stop receiving sole parent benefits when their child turns eight and instead are moved to the dole.

When Kevin Rudd took over from Gillard in June, he was lobbied by some backbenchers to revisit the change, but for single mothers any hope for relief is fading as election day draws closer.

Toni McPherson is one of the mothers whose income dropped by about $100 per week when the new laws came into effect on 1 January. McPherson, who lives in the Gold Coast hinterland, says the changes and subsequent media coverage reinforced a view that she and her 12-year-old son were considered a “drain on society”.”

I find it quite strange that in a modern society such as ours – or at least a society that appears to aspire to modernity, or some modicum of it – that the words “single parent”, or more specifically “single mother” appear to carry with them still a stigma of disapproving illegitimacy for some sort of grave societal dysfunction committed, some sin of public incompletion and inadequacy that should be borne shoulder-heavy with shame, and sniggered at with imperious self-righteousness within the more demure circles of polite Australian society.

Are we living in a Thomas Hardy novel?

… (God, I hope not, what a dreary hell that would be. You’d spend three-fifths of your life wading knee-deep through chapter-length descriptions of shrubbery) …

One thing I’ve noticed in common about the single mothers and fathers I have known over the decades, either as friends or through work, is they seem to spend the bulk of their energies organising things, especially times – pick-up times, drop-off times, doctors’ appointment times, babysitter times, childcare times, eating times, sleeping times, wakeup times, leave me the fuck alone times – furiously farting about from one harried deadline to the next like blue-arse flies on speed.

The other things they all appear to have in common are frown-lines and a constant air of slightly bewildered harassment …

… One single mother I knew in the 1980’s became a “single” mother when, not long after the birth of their first child, her husband bravely and selflessly announced to all and sundry that he wasn’t quite up to all this fatherhood malarkey just yet and was buggering off to Queensland. Which he promptly did, shortly after shacking up with someone else, having another child, and trying to write the first one out of his existence and memory for the next half-dozen years, much to the disgust and constant frustration of his former (and much wiser) partner …

… A single father I knew a decade back, his wife died when their daughter was about nine, and there was a girl I knew in the 1970’s who decided to take her baby and leave her “man” because she was sick and tired of being beaten up …

…The “single mum on welfare” as “drain on society” is one of those evergreen memes which just won’t quit. Like ”teenagers on drugs”, and “neighbours from hell”, and “foreigners taking our jobs” and “dodgy plumbers”, it’s ripe and easy pickings for the vacuous denizens of tabloid radio and television and newsprint to scrounge up a few of the usual stereotyped suspects and put them on display – some dull-eyed sloth with an arse the size of a Volkswagen dragging a few yawping brats around a godforsaken brick-paved mall in Shitsville, or a deadbeat dad with a 150-word vocabulary who takes his 12 year old on pot-runs …

… But it’s a bullshit story, and mostly always was and always will be, a tale from another time and place that should now be shelved as “urban media myth”, and left to wither and die in the same tatty basket of medieval remnants where “living in sin” and “illegitimate bastard” also lie …

Being a “single parent” (and I’m not a parent), is not a “condition” requiring the application of harsh and punitive treatment ‘til the condition is cured …

It is a circumstance.

… That a Labor government – any government – would feel such a circumstance deserving of punishment by legislation is but a sad reflection on the emotional and intellectual immaturity currently at the heart of modern Australian politics and society, modern in this context being roughly 1971, it seems …

… Shove 84,000 people in the one box, and slap a sticker on ‘em all that essentially says, “If you didn’t feel like a loser before, you sure as shit will now” …

“I can’t manage [Toni McPherson says]. I’ve had to get financial counselling from the [local] Logan family support program, I’ve had to get support from the Benevolent Society. It hasn’t just been a financial blow, it has affected me emotionally and psychologically because I just feel like everything I do in this community – not only do I raise my child but the other contributions I make to society – aren’t valued,” the 48-year-old says.

“The sacrifices I make and the extra work I do isn’t seen as important enough to be rewarded with sufficient financial support, so during the period of time when I really, really need it, it’s just not there, it’s just not available.

“It makes me feel like my child isn’t important because we’re not seen as fruitful, contributing citizens. Even though you know it’s all garbage and it’s all myths and it’s all lies, it does affect you.”

Reckon.

Advertisements