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OPINION: My fellow single Mums, this budget wasn’t bad for us

Single-parent families need help so does this budget deliver?

Compilation image of Nicole with her children on budget night and a back pocket filled with notes
This years budget has some good initiatives for single parents writes Nicole Pedersen McKinnon (Samantha Menzies)

The federal budget has always been one of my favourite nights of the year. But now, as a single parent running a house alone and raising two children, I’ve become more apprehensive about what the government hands out. While this week’s budget wasn’t bad news for single parents, it does very little to help our bank balances amid the cost of living crisis.

Here's a breakdown of what you may be eligible for:

Cheaper childcare

Also from July this year, childcare will get cheaper. Families on annual incomes up to $80,000 will be able to get a 90 per cent rebate on their childcare costs, with that reducing on a sliding scale up to an income of $530,000.

But, despite intense lobbying and a recommendation from its own Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, the government has failed to remove the obstructive activity test to qualify. This means you have to work 16 hours a week to get subsidised care, which makes it difficult to find a job to meet that threshold.

Don’t forget paid parental leave, for mothers or fathers, will also expand to 26 weeks, from 20 weeks this July, too.

Read more budget news:

A payment top-up

Another budget win for single parents is an extension to the Parenting Payment (single) so that eligible carers can access the support until their youngest child turns 14. This is a much more realistic level than age 8 - after all, 13-year-old kids still need active and intensive parenting.

Nine-in-10 single parents who receive this are women, and many more will now qualify for an also-increased base rate of $922.10 per fortnight or $65.86 per day — an increase of $12.64 a day. With two kids, the full amount is paid if your earnings are lower than $5,907 per year, and it cuts out when earnings reach $68,820.

What’s more, the Government will abolish the ParentsNext Program and reporting system, “removing compulsory aspects as soon as possible as an interim step to end the risk to parents of loss of payments, and introducing a replacement voluntary program from 1 July 2024”.

Parenting payment can come on top of lower Family Tax Benefits A and B, paid to income cut-offs of $93,148 and $104,432, respectively (again, for two children).

Centrelink payments are assets tested too, outside of a family home.

The budget also confirmed a small raise to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other benefits: at $40 a fortnight. But $2.86 a day won’t do much to combat the higher cost of pretty much everything.

The rent assistance measures announced were similarly, well, pitiful: A 15 per cent increase in the maximum rate for Aussies on Commonwealth Rent Assistance, a supplement for renters receiving various Centrelink payments. That’s $31 per fortnight.

Access to bulk-billed doctors appointments

Getting good medical treatment for your kids is becoming a real worry. Appointments are hard to come by and then there’s the cost involved when you do eventually secure a spot. But, and this was the mic drop moment in the Treasurer’s speech and one of the few things that hadn’t been pre-announced, the government wants to triple a GPs incentive to bulk bill you.

The people who will benefit are those who need it most: children under the age of 16, pensioners and other Commonwealth concession card holders. The incentive is available for face‑to‑face, telehealth and videoconference consultations.

To help a system stretched to its limits, the government is also going deeper into the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic strategy, more than doubling the funding already announced in the October Budget. The idea is that if, say, your child breaks their arm, you can take them to one of these faster-treatment, longer-houred, bulk-billed clinics. Of course, you will need to be near one of the 58 clinics the government plans to create around the country by year-end.

But don’t miss that the Medicare rebate you (as parents) receive for any treatment which is not bulk billed, will remain inappropriately low at $56. There is one concession though: “Patients who require consultations of longer than 60 minutes will receive a larger Medicare rebate.”

Discounts on other bills

The energy measures in this week’s budget are unimpressive and way out in the future. But the government is partnering with states and territories to deliver up to $3 billion worth of discounts on bill rebates to concession card holders, those who receive family and carers payments and recipients of electricity concessions under existing state and territory schemes.

This means some single parent families will benefit, but it’s not yet clear who will get the maximum $500 discount.

Read more from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

Ability to keep your family safety

There is more money (a third more than in the October Budget) to expand initiatives to help people who are victims of domestic violence, including notable, targeted investment in programs to address violence against First Nations women.

Since Monday, in a move aimed at supporting survivors, Centrelink will consider in the assessment of whether someone is part of a couple and whether domestic violence is a factor.

It was also previously announced that 4,000 of the homes, funded by the government’s Housing Future Fund, will be allocated to women and children fleeing domestic violence (some to older women at risk of homelessness, too).

My single parent verdict:

You can see the hand of Labor’s Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce all over its initiatives so far for women. Which is an extremely good thing.

The Budget’s Women’s Economic Statement says: “This Budget has a particular focus on supporting women facing disadvantage, including single parents, and low-income workers across the care and support sector, including targeted and responsible cost of living relief for families to ease pressures on households.”

But the government could have gone further.

Besides ditching the childcare activity test, they could have helped more with sky-rocketing housing costs (rent and mortgage), adding super to paid parental leave and a bigger lift to benefits.

The teeny tiny forecast surplus boosts Labor’s economic credibility… and is important for the country’s sustainable finances.

But for single parents, there is a little help at hand.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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