The Government is concerned to avoid a situation like the one in England, in which a growing number of single mothers live off welfare and raise daughters who do likewise (53% of the daughters of single mothers become single mothers themselves).
I don't often write about the issue of welfare, but this one is relevant because if large numbers of young women choose to be supported by state welfare, then what happens to the men who would once have married them? As one English researcher wrote of teen girls choosing to become mothers:
Traditionally they would not have been able to do this without finding male partners and motivating them to help as family providers.
But the welfare state has changed all that, by stepping in as a direct provider itself, rendering many potentially helpful men redundant in the process.
So it seems to me that the Gillard Government policy is a reasonable compromise. It gives the teen mothers a year to look after their newborn children, but then imposes some work/education expectations.
Susie O'Brien, a Herald Sun columnist, doesn't see it this way at all. She wrote:
Let's stop picking on teenage single parents. Most of them are doing it hard enough already, without the threat of losing their livelihood.
Their livelihood? That's an interesting way of describing a welfare payment. It's as if Susie O'Brien wants to treat the single mother payment as something so normal and run of the mill that it fits into the same category as earning a living through a trade or profession.
Why would she do this? There's a clue, I think, in her follow up comment:
Why have a paid maternity leave scheme encouraging mothers to take time off to be with their kids, but force teen mums back to school or work once their kid is just one year old?
At first I didn't understand this argument. The paid maternity leave scheme doesn't allow women to spend all that long with their children. It allows women 18 weeks at the minimum wage, paid for by the government, before they are expected back at work. So if working mums are expected back at work after just four and half months, why not expect teen mothers to go to work after 12 months?
But then I got the connection. In traditional societies it was expected that a husband would support his wife when she was at home with their children. Men were therefore paid a living wage and given tax breaks if they had kids. But with the advent of the paid maternity leave scheme it is now official that the government has taken over this role. Therefore, it makes sense for Susie O'Brien to look on the government as being the legitimate provider enabling women to be at home raising their children. It makes sense for her to see the government payment as a legitimate "livelihood" for women who choose to raise children, with the absence or presence of a husband no longer being as relevant. And if you think it's a good thing for women to be at home with their kids, then you'll start to believe that the government should pay for them to do so - since that is now the government's role.
It confirms my belief that paid parental schemes should be opposed. I know that the money will be very welcome to some people, including to some of my readers. But there are other ways for the state to support families financially, such as through tax breaks.
To repeat, one of the major problems with a paid maternity leave scheme is that it legitimates the idea that it is the government which is to play the provider role and allow women to mother their children at home. Once this principle is accepted, then it will quickly become a "right" for women, whether married or not, to have the government pay for them to raise their children. Those women who want to be at home raising their children will increasingly look to the government to fund this desire.
I'm not sure how far the government will go in meeting such expectations. A lot of feminists prefer women to work rather than to be at home and it would be expensive for governments to write a blank cheque to fund the tremendous costs involved. But we can see from the attitude of Susie O'Brien that there are going to be women who will think it reasonable for the government to fulfil such expectations.