One in four Australians struggle to make ends meet, with single mums facing extra hurdles, data shows

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You don’t have to tell Mellita Rose the statistics: that single-parent families are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty as the general population.

The 40-year-old single mother struggles with that reality every day.

“It’s a difficult thing to explain to somebody, unless you’ve gone through it,” the Perth mother of two said.

“You constantly worry that you’re not doing enough, and you desperately want to change the situation.”

Ms Rose has two sons aged seven and nine. One of them lives with autism spectrum disorder.

In order to pay the bills she relies on the carer payment, the family tax benefit and some child support.

“There’s always something and it’s never gets easier to try and put money away. It’s not an option,” she said.

“You are living day-to-day, and that’s just the way that it is.”

About one-in-four respondents to the ABC’s Australia Talks survey said they struggled to make ends meet.

People who were divorced or separated were around twice as likely to feel that way than those who were married or in de-facto relationships — 45 per cent, compared to 21 per cent.

Ms Rose and her ex-husband separated in 2016 and got divorced in 2019.

When she was still married, Ms Rose was able to work part time to supplement the household income. Now, she’s on her own.

“[Before], there was the opportunity to change circumstances, to go out and get more work or to perhaps apply for a job that was difficult hours because you had that support at home,” she said.

“I think being a single parent, you don’t have that option.”

She worries about the future. Since the divorce, she’s had to repeatedly dip into her superannuation — and it’s now gone.

“It’s a really, really scary situation,” she said.

“I had to kind of put my needs aside and make sure that everyone got what they needed.

“It is always a concern for me, but I’m confident that I can turn it around.”

Stark poverty figures

Statistically speaking, Ms Rose has two big strikes against her when it comes to escaping the poverty trap: she’s single, and she’s a mother.

Those two cohorts are amongst the most likely to face poverty, according to Professor Carla Treloar from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

“The risk of poverty is double for single-parent families, headed by women, than for men,” the director of the Social Policy Research Centre said.

The numbers from the UNSW Poverty in Australia 2020 report are stark.

Twenty-six per cent of single people with no children — aged between 15 and 64 — live in poverty, compared to 13 per cent of the general population.

And sole-parent families have the highest rates of poverty, at 35 per cent.

What’s more, sole-parent families where the main earner is female, are twice as likely to be in poverty as single-parent families where the main earner is male — 37 per cent compared with 18 per cent.

“Our research shows that 3.2 million people live in poverty. That’s poverty. That’s not just difficulty making ends meet,” Professor Treloar said.

‘Sense of optimism’ higher among migrants

The Australia Talks survey results showed those who were born here viewed their financial situation differently to those who recently migrated here.

Twenty-nine per cent of Australian-born respondents agreed they often had difficulty making ends meet, whereas only 17 per cent of Australians who arrived 10 or less years ago said the same.

Hassan Ahmed, 39, has lived in Australia for nearly a decade.

He moved here with his wife Shamima from Bangladesh after she was granted a skilled migrant visa.

Employed as a community support worker in Melbourne, Mr Ahmed said he didn’t have difficulty making ends meet.

“I’m working now full time. I can see if I work full time, it’s easy to live a standard life,” he said.

Both of his daughters live with special needs, and he’s especially grateful for government support the family received after his second daughter was born in 2016.

“If … I couldn’t get government support, I couldn’t survive. I had no job as well because I couldn’t work,” he said.

“[When] I got [that] support, I was able to buy my basic needs.”

He said migrants who moved here from underdeveloped countries could see the benefits of things like the healthcare system and job opportunities in Australia.

“They can easily compare where they [were] before and where they are now,” he said.

Mr Ahmed’s attitude is not uncommon amongst newcomers, according to the Migration Council of Australia CEO Carla Wilshire.

“In all of the focus groups that we run, it’s a significant theme — coming to Australia is a real opportunity,” she said.

Ms Wilshire said the discrepancy between those who were born here and the recent arrivals is understandable; particularly for those from developing countries, where even the most basic services are not taken for granted.

“Having a job, being able to send money home, being able to send your children to school — [they] are seen as real opportunities,” she said.

“The sense of optimism is very much the way they frame things.”

The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and how your answers compare.

Then, tune in at 8:00pm on Monday, June 21 to watch hosts Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain take you through the key findings and explore the survey with some of Australia’s best-loved celebrities.

By social affairs correspondent Norman Hermant and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Lucy Kent (Original ABC Article)