A young woman reading children's stories to her little two year old son.
A young woman reading children's stories to her little two year old son.

Parents: Do ‘story time’ or lose welfare

STRESSED parents are further feeling the pressure, being forced to attend their children's story time or risk losing their benefits.

Under a government program further expanded in July, parents must meet a fortnightly participation plan to allow them to keep getting their Centrelink payments.

Parents might have to participate in the ParentsNext program if they have received a parenting payment for the last six months, not worked and have a child aged under six years.

The program is designed to ensure parents do not become welfare dependent and helps get them ready for the workforce.

But parents say they are being forced to go to story time with their children, or swimming lessons and playgroup or risk having payments suspended.

Some are forced to do education courses at a cost, even if they already have qualifications.

The government announced the expansion of the $263 million program in the May budget after a two-year trial that saw 3510 participants have their payments suspended.

Parents say the scheme is "terrible" because it seems designed to add one more complication to people who are already struggling.


A young woman reading children's stories to her little two year old son.
A young woman reading children's stories to her little two year old son.

"I was flagged for this scheme earlier this year," said one woman on reddit.

"I received a letter saying I had to attend a phone appointment and details of how to reschedule. I had a hospital appointment at the time of the appointment so tried multiple times to change the appointment, only to be told no other times were available.

"Then I wasted 8 hours on hold (across multiple days) trying to get through to Centrelink and failing. There's no Centrelink office within an hour of where I live, so dropping in was not an option.

"As was obviously going to happen, I missed the call, and 30 minutes later got a MyGov message telling me my payment had been suspended."

Another woman did not report her story time session at a local library and said she had her payments suspended for a week.

"I told the ParentsNext case worker that I never agreed to that as my five-year-old has kindergarten that day," she told Guardian Australia.

"She said that my daughter had to skip kindergarten and attend the library story time sessions."

Others said these could be "rogue incidents', with one mum saying it was pitched to her as a way to learn strategies and work skills for when the kids were at school or when parenting payments ended.

Some parents have been able to volunteer or participate in local art classes.

ParentsNext has been operating in 10 locations since April 2016 but from July started operating in all non-remote areas of Australia.

The government says the program had helped 3500 participants find paid work and 9,500 participate in education or training since April 2016.