Out of work mums losing parent payment
Pregnant women who lost work as a result of coronavirus are now at risk of also being ineligible for the federal government's Parental Leave Payment.
To quality for the $740.60 weekly payment, which is capped at 18 weeks, a mum cannot have been out of the workforce for a continuous period of more than 12 weeks in the 13 months leading up to the child's birth date.
Around 780,000 Australians are thought to have lost their jobs in mid to late March, with many of those losses occurring in retail, hospitality, accommodation and tourism - all sectors with a disproportionately high number of women.
Of the people who have lost work due to the pandemic, 55 per cent are female.
There are concerns many of those people will lose their eligibility for the Parental Leave Payment (PLP) over the next few weeks if they have not been successful in picking up new work in the meantime.
Professor Marian Baird from the Women and Work Research Goup at the University of Sydney said exceptions to the PLP eligibility test should be expanded to accommodate people who have lost their job because of the pandemic.
"Some countries around the world have started to address this problem. We haven't done anything about it at all, and I haven't seen any mention of it either," she said.
Financial insecurity was an issue that affected many people's decision whether to have children, Prof Baird said, and this could lead to a fall in the birth rate, with flow-on effects for the entire economy.
A Labor amendment to the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020 which would have enabled expecting parents who had lost work to still qualify for the PLP was defeated in the Senate on Thursday, prompting the Opposition Social Services spokeswoman Linda Burney to claim the Morrison government "abandons families".
"The Government has the power to fix the system to ensure that families do not miss out on accessing the paid parental leave scheme due to the impact of coronavirus," Ms Burney said.
"Labor is concerned that the failure to fix this problem will force parents, especially mums, back to work before they and their babies are ready, as they won't get the paid parental leave they were expecting."
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government was allowing JobKeeper recipients to quality for the PLP, and parents who were not eligible were "encouraged to instead test their eligibility for other forms of income support" such as JobSeeker.
"We are committed to improving conditions for new parents who want to maintain connection to the workforce and as such this week passed new legislation which allows a primary carer to spilt their leave into two blocks and transfer the second block to the other partner to suit the needs of the family," the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services told News Corp almost 174,000 people started receiving PLP in the 2019 calendar year.
In the period between January 1 and May 31 this year, a total of 70,519 people started receiving the payment, compared to 70,807 people for the same time period in 2019.
While that might not seem like a huge drop, it should be noted that the eligibility requirements for the payment were higher in 2019.
Just eight weeks of continuous unemployment would have caused applicants to become ineligible for the PLP in 2019 - a provision that was changed to 12 weeks as of January 1 this year.
That policy change was a "lucky break" for many, Prof Baird said.
"It was not based on any anticipation of some pandemic happening; it was based on quite a lot of submissions and complaints from groups, in particular occupations that do have breaks between work," she said.
Occupations with more sporadic working patterns - as disparate as jockeys and university academics - had been negatively affected by the previous eight-week rule, Prof Baird said.
Originally published as Out of work mums losing parent payment