Consider the single-parent families living their worst Christmas since 2019

As a sole parent of three kids, Angela Finch has been hovering around the poverty line since 2020 after leaving a violent home. She writes about why Christmas is especially tough this year for those relying on support payments.

A few sleeps away from Christmas, most families are looking forward to a festive season without COVID “restrictions.” They are wrapping presents, packing suitcases and cars for a trip away, they are buying more food than they can eat, they are looking forward to seeing family and friends. 

Spare a thought for families like mine who have fond memories of COVID lockdowns with support payments that actually improved our lives, without rental increases or evictions. For those of us who still have a home, we are doing the sums on how to keep it, pay the bills and put food on the table. The sums never add up anymore. 

For us this will be the worst Christmas since 2019. 

We are families led by women, single parent families and anyone who receives Government Support Payments. 

I’m a sole parent of three daughters, aged 14, 10 and 5. I work casually in medical retail and receive partial Parenting Payment Single.

Since July 2020 when I took my children from a violent home, I have been hovering around the poverty line. 

I returned to full time study in 2021, to become a social worker. I could be there for my daughters as we recovered from our trauma and settle into a new life.  I was building a humble, safe, stable future for us. That dream has never seemed further away.  

In June this year I had to give my studies up when my Parenting Payment was cut in half overnight due to the child support I am owed (but never been fully paid) I thought returning to the paid workforce our life would get a little easier, it hasn’t. Instead of building toward a career, I’m in insecure low-paid casual work. Every expense has increased at least once this year. Electricity costs are up but our usage is down, water usage is the same. Our food budget has pretty much stayed the same over these years but what it buys is significantly less, and my Christmas present from my real estate agent was a $75 per week rent increase that starts this week.  So, while I might be considered to be above the poverty line right now, I am in rental stress as over 50% of my income goes on rent. 

I spent Wednesday night going over my budget; which bills have to be paid, which ones I can pay a little of and which ones I’m just going to ignore as I know the funds available to me won’t cover it all. This is usually when I work out how much I have to spend on food, but not this week. I’m working out what the leftover will cover on my three daughters Christmas wish lists then I’ll look at what’s left over for food. 

My heart is heavy this Christmas and my optimism for 2023 is lower than ever. 

Ironically for families like mine, COVID restrictions during the pandemic hardly impacted us. From early 2020 until March 2021 the lives of families like mine didn’t change very much, we didn’t go out before because we couldn’t afford it, so being locked at home was not a big deal. 

The really big deal for us was that we could actually afford fresh fruit and vegetables, new clothes that actually fit our kids, new shoes, new underwear, medication, turning the heater/cooler on, car registration, paying our bills when they were due, dentist appointments for our kids, new inner tubes for a child’s bike, a family laptop for the children and mum to study on, a new portable heater straight away without having to save for weeks.  

The two things I hear most about what the coronavirus supplement meant for struggling families was 1), all my bills are up to date and there is fresh food in the cupboards. 2),I could leave a violent home because I could afford to.  Both of those things were true for me.

Thanks to this new virus and the government interventions we got our humanity back. There was an understanding all of a sudden that support payments are criminally low and families could not survive on them. 

We would not accept people living on the street, we wouldn’t accept people going without fresh fruit and vegetables, we would accept that people went without medication or doctor’s appointments, we accept that their rent went up more than they could afford, we wouldn’t accept families getting evicted from their homes.  

For a brief moment there was an understanding that the reason we have a Social Security System is to provide secure safety net for the moments in our life that are out of our control. For the first time in decades the rhetoric regarding welfare recipients being “dole bludgers” was gone from our collective vocabulary. There was an innate understanding that $44 a day is not enough for anyone to live on.  We stopped blaming these people for our country’s economic woes and did the decent thing and gave families and people their dignity back. 

For the last three Christmases’ I’ve reflected and thought, ‘that year was a rough one’, and I hoped the next year would be just a bit easier. The truth is that each year has become harder. It has nothing to do with being in a global pandemic and everything to do with political will. 

So, this Christmas I am asking the Australians waiting to board a plane, sitting in traffic on road trips, sitting round the dinner table looking at all the leftovers and all the discarded wrapping paper, take a moment and think about the three million Australians, including 760,000, who are going without.

We all need to ask what happened to our collective realisation that it’s outrageous to put people into state-sanctioned poverty? Where has our humanity gone?

Consider the single-parent families living their worst Christmas since 2019