Memory is an interesting thing and can lead us to have strong opinions on what is going on around us now.
The blog ‘We did it tough and had no help – then vs today’s parents’ lead to 931 comments in reply. The original article stated that in the 50s parents had family support, that in the 1970s parents were free ‘all the time’ to help out. The article was about the Liberal Party policy for paid parental leave. Some of the replies claimed there were ‘no benefits – we did it all on our own’; there was ‘no assistance whatsoever’. Other people remembered the importance of the two pounds endowment cheque for providing food, or school shoes as they were growing up, importantly, we were reminded that the past was different and people lived and coped as best they could – then and now. And, of course, there were some who had to blame the Liberal or Labor Party.
In truth, there is a bipartisan approach to supporting young families. As early as 1912, the Labor Prime Minister Fisher introduced a lump sum payment of 5 pounds (2 weeks wages of an unskilled worker) to the mother on the birth of a child. This was not means tested. Child endowment was introduced in NSW in 1927, but the big leap forward was in 1941 under the Menzies government when the United Australia Party (the forerunner to the Liberal Party) was in power. This was when the child endowment payment of 5 shillings a week per child was introduced, not counting the first child. He or she, apparently, could be raised on thin air. In 1950, the first child was included. A referendum was passed with both sides recommending it to the Australian people so that the Commonwealth government had responsibility for all pensions, just not the old age and invalid pensions in 1946.
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Little changed until the 1970s when the Supporting Mothers’ Benefit was extended to those who were not widowed. This enabled many families to stay together, rather than children being put into homes. In 1976, child endowment was called family allowance and increased by 300 per cent. It was not means tested. As a stay at home mum, with two littlies, this was greatly received in my circle of friends who were in similar circumstances.
From the 80s on there is a mix of means tested allowances and tax rebates, so that it is not possible to generalise about what the ‘average’ family was receiving in government assistance, directly or indirectly.
In 1994 paid maternity leave was introduced, and in 1998 a parenting allowance for either mother or father.
Currently, parental leave is at $641.05 per week before tax for a maximum of 18 weeks. This payment is dependent on certain work history, residence and income tests. There is an upfront Newborn Payment or Newborn Supplement.
What the Liberal Party proposed, according to their website, was six months leave based on the parent’s actual wage or the national minimum wage, whichever was greater. This was to be seen as a workforce entitlement, not a welfare payment and was primarily seen as measure to increase Australia’s productivity.
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It seems to me that this policy was never well explained, and it was badly timed as there were calls that Australians had to learn the age of entitlement was over.
Social and economic conditions have changed since we were growing up, and since we were bringing up our own young families. Women are a lot better educated, expectations have changed in all sorts of ways – whether we think that is a good thing or not. The challenge is to continue to support young families, and all those who deserve government support, and balance Australia’s budget.
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