THE ASSAULT ON THE AUSTRALIAN FAMILY
A basic human right is to marry and raise a family, something people all over the world have been doing for millennia. These rights are even included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (1) However nowadays there are many obstacles to forming a family, some financial but others societal.
Housing, especially in our big cities is getting prohibitively expensive, and increased in cost, well above the general level in inflation, even during the Covid 19 crisis. Many people are priced out of the housing market. (2) Measures like the first home buyers grant help some people but also raise demand and hence prices. Those who do manage to buy a home can be paying off a mortgage for decades to come.
For the lower income groups social housing involves a long wait, maybe for years or decades. Nationwide the waiting lists for social housing runs to about 430,000 people. (3) No wonder homelessness is a problem with thousands affected.
Meanwhile spending to reduce homelessness by the Federal government has been cut by a billion dollars while house prices rose by 50% and rents by 31%. Since 2013 the number presenting to homeless services went up 15% to 290,462. (4)
For those starting a family there are some welfare benefits such as the New Born Payment and Family Tax Benefit. There are income limits on these however, those who have a very low income get the most, while those on better incomes get less. (5) Those on good incomes miss out but still have to pay taxes so that others get the benefits. In fact in some cases family men, or women, lose out if they get a good paying job as they pay increased income tax but lose welfare benefits.
Another problem with welfare benefits like the Jobseeker Payment or Old Age Pension is that a married couple will not get the same as two individuals not, or claiming not, to be married. This would not only be a disincentive to getting married but an incentive for married people on welfare to get divorced.
Societal problems such as those associated with the “permissive society” and loosening of sexual morals no doubt has a negative effect on the formation of serious and committed relationships leading to marriage.
Then there is the problem of unemployment. Back in the 1950s and 1960s when we enjoyed the post-war baby boom, unemployment never rose above 3.2% and more often than not it was 2% or under. (6) In August this year unemployment fell to 4.5% and this is now considered a good figure – but does not take into account underemployment of 9.3% and a falling participation rate. (7) Having no job, or a casual job you may lose anytime, is hardly likely to be encouragement to buy a home or start a family.
Easier divorce laws than existed in the sixties have probably had a part in raising divorce rates although whether this would affect a person’s decision to start a family is debateable. (8) There are horror stories about men not only losing their house and car but businesses and livelihoods as well. In the long run men don’t seem to suffer too bad economically.
What can be done to help families? One idea would be to ease or remove the income test for Family Tax Benefits and give each partner, where both are on Disability or Aged Pensions, or Jobseeker Payment, an amount equivalent to that given to single people. Creating more social and affordable housing would also help. Politically making the welfare of all families an issue in elections would be good but none of the main political parties seem too interested.
(2) Aidan Devine, “A $300k Jump in Price of a House”, Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2021
(6) R. Maddock & I. W. McLean, “The Australian Economy in the Long Run”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987
ONE PARENT FAMILIES
While traditional families are under attack single parent families have been growing in Western nations like the United States, Britain and Australia.
The number of children in the United Kingdom who grow up in single-parent households increased from 9 per cent in 1970 to nearly 25 per cent today. Children in these households are more liable to grow up in poverty, have low educational achievement, anxiety and depression, use drugs, and become involved in crime. More than 70 per cent of single-parent families rely on tax credits and welfare simply to get by. In the USA where the one in three children are in single-parent families single parents cost a third of the welfare bill. There appears to be a direct correlation between the growth of single-parent families and the increase in welfare benefits available to them. Kids with two parents tend to do better, even in low income families. (1)
Australia’s welfare system is generous to single parents as the Parenting Payment, currently $862.10 a fortnight is considerably higher than the Jobseeker Payment of $629.50 a fortnight. Single parents lose the Parenting Payment once their youngest child reaches eight years of age but they still get a slightly higher rate of Jobseeker at $676.80. They also get Family Tax Benefit A for each child of $191.24 to $248.78 a fortnight, a supplement of $788.40 per annum, and if they qualify for family Tax Benefit B another $113.54 to $162.54 per fortnight. If they pay rent they can get Rent Assistance of $191.24 a fortnight or more if they have three or more children. (2)
It would seem that if the government can be so generous to single parents they could be more supporting to those in traditional families with two parents, especially considering the latter seem to bring up more successful children.
(1) Rod Liddle, “The Sorry State of the Modern Apology”, The Spectator, 31 July 2021