Mothers on the margins

Mothers on the margins

31 October 2013

Mothers on welfare represent one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

Assisting these women and their children to break from the cycle of poverty requires a commitment to a system of welfare that acknowledges the multiple and complex factors that contribute to disadvantage. 

The lead-up to the 2013 Federal election saw a number of policy announcements targeted at middle-income parents. In comparison, there was limited discussion about the struggles that low-income parents, particularly mothers, experience as they try to survive on government subsidies and pensions

This year, Anglicare Victoria used data from its annual Hardship Survey to explore the struggles experienced by women with dependent children who sought assistance through Emergency Relief and Financial Counselling services.

The Mothers on the Margins report shows that of the 104 mothers who sought assistance across 25 Victorian service locations:

  • 50% of couple mothers, and 40% of single mothers were experiencing multiple disadvantage, defined as being unable to afford more than six items that most Australians consider ‘basic living needs’.
  • A greater proportion of couple mothers than single mothers reported not being able to afford basic items for their children, including out-of-school activities and separate beds for each child.
  • Couple mothers reported a slightly higher average number of barriers to employment, compared to single mothers.
  • Regardless of partner status, mothers reported lack of access to affordable child care as an important barrier to employment.
  • A higher proportion of couple mothers, compared to single mothers, reported lack of stable housing as a barrier to employment.

The ‘Mothers on the Margins’ report sheds light on some of the potential limitations of the current welfare-to-work policy. The assumption that decreasing government subsidies will motivate people to engage in work is at odds with the reality found in this study that many mothers experience multiple forms of disadvantage, which limit their capacity to find and sustain stable employment.

The research evidence from the Anglicare Victoria study suggested that a more holistic approach that acknowledges the interrelated nature of hardship and disadvantage is needed. In particular, lack of affordable and stable housing and child care emerge as two areas in need of policy attention and reform.

More broadly, research suggests that cuts to welfare subsidies have flow-on effects that limit women’s capacity to address their barriers to employment (Australian Council of Social Service, 2012; Blank, 2007; McCollum, 2012).

Download the Mothers on the Margins report here.


  • Australian Council of Social Service. (2012). Who is missing out? Material deprivation and income support payments. ACOSS Paper 187. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ACOSS.
  • Blank, R. M. (2007). Improving the safety net for single mothers who face serious barriers to work. Future of Children, 17(2), 183-197.
  • McCollum, D. (2012). Towards (un)sustainable employment? Exploring policy responses to work-welfare cycling. Policy Studies, 33(3), 215-230.

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Tatiana Corrales

Dr Tatiana Corrales is Principal Researcher at Anglicare Victoria.

Dr Sarah Wise

Dr Sarah Wise is General Manager – Policy, Research and Innovation, Anglicare Victoria

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