Parental disability and single parenthood are the “clearest pathways” for the transfer of disadvantage from one generation to the next, a new report finds.
The report, authored jointly by the universities of Sydney and Melbourne, has called for a greater policy focus on “leveling the playing field” for children in vulnerable families.
“Disparities in young people’s outcomes are not simply the result of their – or their parents’ – differential efforts; unequal opportunities also play a critical role,” the report says.
The findings, released on Monday, relied on an analysis of 18 years of Centrelink records and more than 124,000 “unique matched youth-parent pairs”, where the children were born between October 1987 and March 1988.
It found the children were almost twice as likely to receive social security payments in later life if their parents had received benefits.
Young Australians had a 58% chance of receiving welfare between the ages of 18 and 26 if their parents received social security while they grew up, compared with 31.8% where there was no family history of receiving welfare.
But the report suggests this intergenerational relationship is most intense where parents are either receiving disability, carer, or single-parent payments, rather than unemployment benefits.
Children whose parents were on disability, carer and single-parent payments were 1.6 times more likely to claim social security than others.
In comparison, children whose parents were on unemployment and partnered-parent payments were 1.3 to 1.4 times more likely to receive social security, the report found.
“Parental disability and single parenthood are the clearest pathways through which disadvantage is being passed from Australian parents to their children,” the report found.
“In contrast, other forms of disadvantage, in particular those stemming from parents’ poor labour market outcomes, seem to be easier for young people to overcome.
“This suggests that parental disadvantage may be more harmful to children’s later life outcomes if it is more strongly driven by circumstances rather than personal choice.”
The report’s release comes as the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth warned Australia’s welfare system is letting children and families down.
The alliance cited a 2016 report, produced by the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss), which showed 731,300 Australian children under the age of 15 lived below the poverty line.
That represents 17.4%, or one in six, of all Australian children. The proportion had increased by two percentage points between 2003-04 and 2013-14.
But the increase was particularly pronounced for single-parent families, where poverty rates increased from 36.8% to 40.6% between 2012 and 2014.
Alliance chief executive, Stephen Bartos, said the poverty-level Newstart rate ($38 per day) and parenting allowances were inadequate to help families deal with the rising costs of living.
“On top of low welfare payments, we also see an increase in the number of kids living in poverty,” Bartos said.
“This is putting major obstacles between these children and happy, productive lives,” he said.
Last month, the alliance released a report that suggested a strong link between poverty and problems in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
“In the face of this evidence, governments must do more to prevent families falling into poverty, and assist more quickly and effectively when they do,” Bartos said.
The Greens, meanwhile, have called on the federal government to end its “attacks on our social safety net”.
Senator Rachel Siewert called for increases to the Newstart and youth allowance payments to alleviate pressure on the most vulnerable Australians.
“Both old parties have refused to increase income support payments which have not gone up in real time for years,” Siewert said.
“The government continues their insidious attacks on income support, making it more and more difficult for vulnerable people to use the system, and it was the Labor government that dumped single parents onto the Newstart payment.”