Single parents facing 'discrimination' in daily lives, 'negative attitudes' from govt departments, employers - report

Single parents facing 'discrimination' in daily lives, 'negative attitudes' from govt departments, employers - report
Photo credit: Getty Images

A new report on single parents has shed light on the "discrimination and systemic inequality" they face in New Zealand.

Ngāti Kahungunu and Project Gender released the Mako Mama Mangopare Single Parents Project on Tuesday morning. According to a press release, the report highlights the need for change to support single parents and their children and offers three areas for immediate impact and eight key action areas for change.

After collecting survey and focus group data from over 3500 single parents in 2022, Mako Mama Mangopare found single parents face "significant" stigma and discrimination in their daily lives, with many facing "negative attitudes" from government departments, employers, and the wider community. Project Gender director Erin Jackson said these attitudes, among other systemic barriers, affect their access to education, employment, healthcare, and other basic needs.

"Single parents in New Zealand face a range of challenges, for example, two-thirds of those we surveyed have experienced family violence. However when they seek support, instead of being protected they are often investigated," Jackson said.

"In order for the 73,560 people in Aotearoa receiving Sole Parent Support to thrive, a fundamental shift is required in how the government, business, and society think about and engage with single parents."

The research found the majority of single parents want to be in some or more paid work but are often unable to due to the need to look after their children, the lack of affordable childcare, or because their benefit payments would be reduced.

Project Gender director Angela Meyer said the relationship status rules for single parents are also concerning, claiming "if a single parent receiving the benefit has someone stay over more than three times, they are deemed by the state to be in a relationship, they risk being investigated and their benefit cut - and potentially being charged with benefit fraud".

However, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has said that claim is incorrect.

"Taking family circumstances and relationship status into account in granting a benefit is a longstanding principle underpinning New Zealand social security legislation," ministry client service delivery acting group general manager Graham Allpress said.

"It is based on the notion that for a person who is married, or living in the nature of marriage, spouses and de facto partners owe primary obligations of support to each other, and that the state's support obligations are secondary."

Allpress said MSD only prosecuted fraud "in the most serious cases".

"Our fraud approach is primarily prevention and encouraging people to do the right thing and update us with any changes in their situation," he said in a statement.

"We seek to have a conversation with clients early on if a concern is raised and make it easy for clients for them to do the right thing so they don’t build up further overpayments."

Allpress urged anyone unsure about what is considered a relationship to visit an MSD office and talk to a staff member.

Meanwhile, Project Gender said that, in collaboration with representatives from Government agencies, businesses, universities and MPs, 82 detailed recommendations have been developed and three key impact areas were identified to help single-parent families. These are: 

  • promoting positive narratives of single-parent families to reduce stigma
  • creation of a 'Navigators Portal' and the development of a nationwide single-parent network to deliver it
  • respecting single parent mana: Protection not investigation via training and ongoing support for policymakers, frontline staff, government officials and communities towards ensuring single parent whānau are protected and have equal opportunities to thrive.

Project Gender's director of research Tania Domett said systemic stigma has sidelined single parents for "far too long".

"We hope this report will help to change the conversation and bring about real change for single parents in New Zealand."

This article was amended on May 2 to add comments from the Ministry of Social Development.