What Would an Engendered Human Rights Approach to Social Security Mean for Sole Parents in Australia?

21 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2013 Last revised: 23 Mar 2015

See all articles by Belinda Smith

Belinda Smith

The University of Sydney Law School; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: November 1, 2013

Abstract

In this chapter I use sole parents in Australia as a focus to examine what it would mean to take a gendered, human rights approach to interpreting the international law right to social security. While this approach supports the ongoing provision of social security in the form of cash transfers as a safety net for immediate alleviation of income poverty, the human rights approach points to complementary measures that are also needed. Social security is to be understood as a right that requires the state to enable sole parents to undertake their caring roles but also protect themselves against ongoing poverty in all its dimensions. Cash assistance has been the primary form of support and is essential. But cash alone is not enough.

Sole parents are a useful focus for exploring this engendered human rights approach to social security. In Australia, as in many countries, sole parent households are the family unit that most intensely experiences the competing demands of paid work and care responsibilities. They thus represent a litmus test for whether the state ensures that citizens with caring responsibilities are protected against economic and social vulnerability.

An engendered human rights approach provides principles for evaluating and guiding a state’s fulfilment of its obligation to provide social security. The human rights lens casts the state obligations wider than merely treating sole parents as ‘citizen workers.’ Human rights inhere in individuals because of their humanity, not because of their labour. A human rights approach therefore calls for support for sole parents to keep them from poverty but also enables them to engage in care and in society, including but not limited to the labour market.

I make the argument for a wider range of supports for sole parents in three parts: (I) a brief outline of Australia’s general revenue based tax-transfer system of social security through which sole parents have been traditionally supported through a cash transfer; (II) an examination of reasons why sole parents in Australia have a low rate of employment and the role the state has played in creating, reinforcing and more recently trying to address this; and (III) how family un-friendly work conditions act as a barrier to sole parent workforce participation and how labour laws and policies contribute to these.

Keywords: social security, gender, Australia, sole parents, human rights, work, family

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Smith, Belinda M., What Would an Engendered Human Rights Approach to Social Security Mean for Sole Parents in Australia? (November 1, 2013). Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 13/79, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2349923 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2349923

Belinda M. Smith (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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