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Julian Smith/AAP

Controversial ParentsNext program to be scrapped next year

The unpopular ParentsNext program is to be scrapped by the Albanese government from July 1 next year.

In the meantime, compulsory requirements for participants in the program, introduced by the Coalition government, are to be paused.

Abolishing ParentsNext was recommended by the government’s Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee and its Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce.

The Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher, and the Employment Minister, Tony Burke, said women around the country had been telling the government the program “is punitive, counterproductive and causes harm”.

Under the program, originally conceived as an attempt to help very young and vulnerable single mothers, participants have been required to attend appointments, negotiate participation plans, and report on agreed activities. If they fail to do what is required, they can have their benefits suspended.

The program was rolled out for women with children under six, with the Coalition government saying it would benefit those at risk of long term welfare dependency. The plan was to assist these parents prepare for jobs by the time their children went to school.

The welfare sector and a recent parliamentary inquiry have criticised the program. The inquiry said it was “locked into a punitive frame and does too much harm for the good it also does”.

The inquiry, which was set up by Burke, found the program was “polarising”.

“Numerous parents we met with explained that ParentsNext has helped them to build confidence, connect with employers, and find paid work. Yet many others think it’s something close to evil and must be scrapped, describing the compliance process as re-traumatising and akin to coercive control,” the committee chair, Labor’s Julian Hill. said in his forward to the inquiry’s report. “ParentsNext is not as bad as many say, but not as great as others claim.”

The inquiry recommended the program be scrapped and replaced with “a supportive pre-vocational service developed via a co-design process”. It said that in the interim the present program should have its onerous elements removed.

Gallagher and Burke said in a statement that at the election Labor “committed to listen to women’s experiences and make decisions that make their lives better and fairer”.

The women’s taskforce said ParentsNext should be replaced by “a new evidence-based program co-designed with young parents, and based in principles of encouragement, support, flexibility and meeting their needs”.

In another measure for women, next week’s budget is set to liberalise the eligibility for the single parent payment. At present a single mother loses this when her youngest child turns eight. She then has to go on JobSeeker, which is paid at a much lower rate. The new cut off point could be when the youngest child turns 13 or 14.

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