The sole breadwinners who should be celebrated

This article by Clare Payne, published in the Sydney Morning Herald (22 August 2017), calls for recognition that in today’s reality, many principal household wage earners are women and this includes those that are single parents, juggling the need to bring in an income and caring for children. Many must survive on a Centrelink system that guarantees ongoing poverty and disadvantage for the family. Childcare is not really regarded as a legitimate activity and keeping single parents, most of who are women, in poverty shows that the system does not value what they do.
Clare Payne specialises in the field of ethics in business. She is a director of the Banking and Finance Oath ( and a Fellow for Ethics in Banking and Finance with the Ethics Centre. 


There are close to 1 million single mothers in Australia. Many earn nowhere near what my friend earns and others not enough to even feed their own children, but they are the breadwinners nonetheless.

But we already know of the plight of the single mother; it has been the same for a long time. Over 85 per cent of single-parent households are headed by the mother and up to 40 per cent of children in these homes live below the poverty line. Many single mothers earn less than the father of their children but they are forced into the “breadwinner” position by a system that sets payments from the other parent at rates that leave the children in poverty. Calculations take a narrow view of the cost of raising a child, taking no account of the mother’s lost income, not least superannuation. Yes, she is set to live a life of poverty, all the way through to her death.

 Then there’s the men that pay nothing at all. In 2015, it was revealed they owe $1.4 billion to the mothers of their children, for the care of their children.

If a single mother is forced to rely on the system to survive there’s not much relief. Recent cuts to sole parent benefits have been described as a human rights violation by the Australian Council of Social Services and St Vincent de Paul Society. Single mothers are subject to persistent and entrenched poverty in the face of consistent economic growth for the nation.

As we attempt to address intimate partner violence and deal with the national issue that is domestic violence (experienced across the socio-economic spectrum), we must ask what type of life we are expecting these women to leave for? Among everything else, when a woman leaves she is likely to become the breadwinner, but she will only have crumbs.

It’s not just domestic violence, there’s gambling addiction as well and it is rife across Australian communities, with men most often affected. Australia has the highest loss per resident in the world. In one suburb alone the losses were over $8 billion in one year, amounting to over $4000 per resident. Managing the family budget alongside the pokies can be an impossible task, left to the mother.

If a single mother is forced to rely on the system to survive there’s not much relief.

The plight of single mothers remains largely ignored. We so rarely hear from her. A number of factors work away at quieting her voice. Given her situation (which may be none of her own making) she can become subject to other poverty indicators such as less education, less employment and less social standing. They all stifle, if not silence her.

She is also very busy making ends meet to feed her children, then herself.

For her to speak up risks disparaging the father of her children, publicly. This could be tempting if he’s not paying his way, but it would seem her judgment often declares it better the kids be protected from all that. So we don’t hear from her and thus she is easily forgotten in policies and subsequently further disadvantaged. Her vote is certainly not courted like that of the family, nuclear that is.

What could be done for her you might ask? We certainly don’t want any more “welfare cheats”, a term of which she is often associated. Don’t worry, the government is making certain of that, they’re set to inspect her home to ensure she is actually living alone with her children. The poverty they are likely to witness may act as a wake-up call for our nation to help in doing something about this long neglected group of people.

The case of my friend, where the woman earns so much that it’s no longer necessary for her husband to work is the best of breadwinning stories. It’s a luxury men and women are now enjoying (although still far less common for women).

The single-mother breadwinner that does it with no support is often doing it out of necessity and with much less. This is a feat, that should be lauded along with the corporate female chief executive with a husband at home. But more to the point, the poverty cycle in which we know the single mother spins should be fixed.

Close to 30 years ago, a bold prime minister promised that no child in Australia would live in poverty, perhaps we can finally get there if we focus on her, the single mother.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.