VINNIES (SVDP Australia) has slammed the Government and the Opposition for driving single mothers deeper into poverty.

Centrelink officers have taken to telling single mothers they should seek help from charities once welfare payments stop in January, The Australian reports.

But St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive John Falzon said that would put “enormous pressure” on the finite resources of the charity at a crucial time.

“It’s not charity they should have to depend on – it’s justice they should be able to count on,” he said.

“We will always be there to lend a helping hand. We will do our utmost to assist everyone who comes to us but, of course, our resources are limited and I can’t comment with certainty on our ability to cover all the requests for assistance.

“Let’s make no mistake. The focus should not be on us, it should be on those single mums to whom a grave injustice has been done by both sides.

“They’re the ones who’ll be suffering through this period and if there’s any concern it should be about them.”

Human Services Minister Kim Carr said claims the Department was referring parents to charities was “not true”, but told The Australian he could not discuss individual conversations.

Under new legislation single parents will shift to Newstart payments once their youngest child turns eight.

The move away from a sole parenting allowance, which comes into effect on January 1, will reduce their payments by up to $223 a fortnight.

According to The Australian, Centrelink has been telling single mothers to call charities if they are then struggling to pay rent or bills or to afford groceries.

Dr Falzon said that news came as “no surprise” and that the Centrelink officers were just trying to help. He said Centrelink officers were faced with “deeply worried and upset people” and he didn’t blame them for referring people to charities.

“It’s the government and opposition colluding to force these single mothers and their children more deeply into poverty, absolutely denying them the dignity of a basic level of economic security,” he said.

“The heart of the nation should go out to those struggling women trying to survive on an already meagre income.”

Senator Carr said Centrelink officers had been directed to contact every parent affected by the changes to “ensure they receive any possible support from the Department of Human Services, identify any potential issues and take steps now to prevent people from being in difficulty”.

“I am aware of claims that the Department has been phoning affected parents to refer them to charities. I have been advised this is not true,” he said.

“This change means affected parents will now be under the same rules as parents who began receiving parenting payment(s) after July 2006.

“There are a number of supplementary payments which parents may be able to continue to access after 1 January 2013, including Family Tax Benefit, SchoolKids Bonus, Rent Assistance and child care subsidies such as Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.”

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