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Federal Budget 2011: Tough love, or just tough?

Federal Budget 2011: Tough love, or just tough?

Much has been made of the most recent Federal Budget – that it’s too tough (for middle-class or upwards Australians), that it’s not tough enough (on asylum seekers or welfare recipients), that it will lead us to ruin (according to Tony Abbott), or that it will lead us to further riches (according to Julia Gillard herself). And while there has been some attention paid to the proposed welfare changes for teenage mothers and young people with disabilities, we should be asking ourselves just who these changes are going to benefit – and who they will further marginalise. For example, we know that teenage mothers - especially those from an economically disadvantaged background  – and women with disabilities are disproportionately affected by intimate partner and family violence. We also know that these women face specific and greater financial challenges to accessing services that many of us take for granted, such as education, training, housing, work and health services, and often are at higher risk of social isolation. The proposed changes to welfare access for teenage mothers would see those on Centrelink payments obliged to attend an interview when the child is six months old, with the mother being expected to be in full-time study or paid employment by the time the child is one. The changes to the disability pension would see those under 35 forced to attend ‘compulsory participation interviews’ aimed at increasing participation in the workforce. Although Gillard’s stated reasons for these new changes to welfare access may be well-meaning, there is a high risk that they will instead contribute to the further marginalisation and social demonization of some of our most vulnerable citizens – particularly young single mothers, who are a favourite target of many tabloid-style TV shows and newspapers in self-styled ‘welfare cheat crack-downs’. We believe that more needs to be done to support and protect vulnerable people – such as young mothers and women with disabilities – and to  address systematic issues of discrimination, abuse and social stigma.

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Photo on Flickr by Vicki & Chuck Rogers (Creative Commons License)