A federal government program that forces parents to complete training to get their welfare payments is a pathway to homelessness, a Senate inquiry has heard.
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children chief executive Terese Edwards said the punitive nature of the program – which suspends payments if certain activities are not met – is not helping participants into employment.
The ParentsNext program should be immediately made voluntary, she told the inquiry in Melbourne on Wednesday.
The program was trialled in 10 locations from April 2016 before its national rollout in July last year – but it only operates in struggling regions.
“I can say unequivocally that there is no family who benefits from having a payment cut or the threat of payment cut,” Ms Edwards said.
“It is not a pathway into employment; it is a pathway into homelessness.”
Although experiencing domestic violence should exempt people from the program, Ms Edwards said she had been helping a single mother who was still made to participate.
“Women who are exempt are still being referred. Once you’re in it, it’s impossible to get out of,” she said.
There are huge concerns over privacy and who is able to access participants’ information.
There’s a disconnect between what the Department of Social Services is telling peak bodies and what’s actually happening with the program on the ground, Ms Edward said.
Senators also heard that the program unfairly targets women with young children, described as the most time-poor demographic.
The committee is expected to report by the end of March.