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Labor's Family Watch Taskforce exposes Howard Government failure on families.



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CATHERINE KING MP SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR TREASURY CHAIR FAMILY WATCH TASKFORCE

WAYNE SWAN MP SHADOW TREASURER

LABOR’S FAMILY WATCH TASKFORCE EXPOSES HOWARD GOVERNMENT FAILURE ON FAMILIES

Today Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Treasury Catherine King, and Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services Jenny Macklin released Labor’s Family Watch Taskforce report.

The Taskforce was established to examine the financial pressures on Australian families that have steadily mounted over 11 long years of the Howard Government.

Labor’s Taskforce talked to over 5000 families and organisations across Australia. The results are compelling evidence of a government that has utterly lost touch with the financial pressures on Australian families.

Contrary to Mr Howard’s arrogant claim that “Australian working families have never been better off”, the Taskforce confirmed that a great many Australian families are struggling to make ends meet.

In particular they are struggling to cope with Mr Howard’s two great IR attacks: an industrial relations regime that cuts wages and conditions, and four back to back interest rate rises since Mr Howard promised to keep rates at record lows.

In addition, families ranked spiralling health and education costs as well as grocery and petrol costs as increasingly heavy financial burdens.

Crippling cost pressures are also preventing families from participating in the workforce. The lack of affordable and available childcare was a major problem for just under half of all families interviewed by the Taskforce.

“I would really love to work full time but the higher childcare cost is really outrageous. As a single mother it is hard to find full time work because of the cost of childcare”, one single mother told the Taskforce.

Around 100,000 Australians are currently prevented from joining the workforce because they can’t find affordable childcare, according to the ABS.

The Howard government must face up to the childcare crisis in this week’s Budget.

Tax cuts in the Budget must address the disincentives to workforce participation in our tax system, as Labor has been advocating.

Crucially, Peter Costello must put the interests of Australian families ahead of his own election interests and refrain from a desperate spending spree that risks more interest rate pain.

In his 2004 election budget, Mr Costello shovelled $66 billion out of the Treasury, then watched interest rates rise four times.

Contact: Matthew Coghlan (Swan) 0415 098 050 Rhys Davies (King) 0409 855 946

[7 May 2007]

What Australian families told the Family Watch Taskforce about general financial pressures

My biggest challenge is the amount of time I need to spend working to support my family (especially school holidays) and spend enough time with my children and myself. Very tiring! - Sole parent Woodcroft SA

My husband is doing more overtime to help cover increases to mortgage, fuel, health care and groceries. He is spending less time at home and family responsibilities fall on me. -Couple with teenager Springfield QLD

What Australian families told the Family Watch Taskforce about housing affordability

My husband and I would love to start a family but because the price of our mortgage is so high, we can't live on my husband's wage alone, so we're faced with me going back to work straight away and working lesser hours. We may not ever be able to afford it. Couple Delacombe VIC

What Australian families told the Family Watch Taskforce about securing a financial future

When you try to do overtime or other jobs, after tax and the family benefit being clawed back, you are left with very little. Hardly worth the effort and extra costs of working extra days (ie fuel, car expenses and loss of family time) - Couple with 2 Children South Guildford WA

The Government doesn't allow single parents to get ahead financially by penalising them when they work harder. - Sole parent family Redwood Park SA

I am concerned about finding and keep a suitable job for the required 15 hours per week by July 2007 considering my family responsibilities. - Sole parent with two dependant children Golden Grove SA Working longer hours just to make money to live. - Coup

Executive Summary

Middle Australia is under more financial pressure than ever before.

Australian families are struggling to make ends meet under the growing weight of record household debt, rising interest rates, pressure at work and reduced family time.

Far from being "relaxed and comfortable" after a decade of the Howard Government, Australian families are increasingly anxious about their household finances.

Australian families are also worried about the impact of the Howard Government's attack on working conditions and neglect of skills training.

Australia's prosperity depends on the hard work and commitment of Middle Australia. Middle Australia deserves a government that focuses on its needs.

The Family Watch Taskforce was established to focus on the issues that dominate discussion around the kitchen tables of Australian families.

The Taskforce met with families at shopping centres and markets around the country and surveyed households in every State and Territory.

The Taskforce also convened public hearings and roundtables in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Darwin and Adelaide and heard from a range of interest groups concerned about family life.

It's clear that growing financial pressure on household budgets is influencing critical family decisions.

Parents told the Taskforce that financial constraints are denying them the opportunity to make real decisions about the size of their families, home ownership and time out of the workforce after childbirth.

Middle Australia is working harder than ever before. Longer hours, and second and third jobs, are eroding family life.

The cost of petrol is straining family relationships as burgeoning petrol bills take their toll on weekend drives and visits to relatives.

Parents are worried about the impact of health costs on their ability to ensure their children get the health and dental care they need. They are also concerned about what the rising cost of education means for their children's future.

Contributing to Middle Australia's anxiety about the future is the certain knowledge that the Howard Government's extreme industrial relations changes will make things harder in the future.

The growing financial burden experienced by middle income families has already overwhelmed many low income families.

The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party established the Taskforce to perform one important task - to listen and report on the financial pressures confronting Australian families.

This report uses the voices of Australian families to tell their story.

It is structured around the following themes:

Raising a Family focuses on the costs of raising children, the factors influencing decisions to start or grow a family, financial pressures impacting on the basics of family life, and the impact of rising fuel prices;

Housing a Family focuses on housing affordability, including the impact of rising interest rates on home ownership and the rising cost of rental accommodation;

Securing a Financial Future for Families focuses on family incomes and the flawed interaction between the taxation and welfare systems;

Working to Support a Family focuses on the Howard Government's neglect of work and family issues and the impact of its extreme industrial relations changes; and

Caring for a Family focuses on the affordability and availability of childcare, health and education.

Federal Labor has been working hard to develop comprehensive policy responses to many of the issues highlighted in this report.

Some of Labor's policy solutions are highlighted in the body of the report.

We submit this report to Labor Leader Kevin Rudd and the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party with the hope and expectation that its contents will inform further family-focused policy development ahead of the 2007 Federal Election.

Family Watch Survey Results

The Family Watch Taskforce surveyed households in every State and Territory about their family’s financial concern. The Taskforce received over 5000 survey from across Australia

Percentage of families ranking an issue as their number 1 concern

9.48%

35.70%

12.50%

16.81%

21.98%

0.00%

5.00%

10.00%

15.00%

20.00%

25.00%

30.00%

35.00%

40.00%

Ranked No. 1

Increasing health costs

High petrol prices

Increasing grocery bills

Increasing interest rates

Unfair new workplace laws

Percent of families who ranked an issue in their top 3 concerns

34.48%

77.58%

49.13%

42.67%

35.34%

0.00%

10.00%

20.00%

30.00%

40.00%

50.00%

60.00%

70.00%

80.00%

Ranked No. 1+2+3

Increasing health costs

High petrol prices

Increasing grocery bills

Increasing interest rates

Unfair new workplace laws

Higher grocery bills are hurting family budgets

One in 5 families ranked higher grocery bills as their number one financial concern.

One in 2 families ranked higher grocery bills in their top three financial concerns.

Higher petrol prices are hurting family budgets

One in 3 families ranked petrol as their number one financial concern.

One in 5 families ranked petrol in their top three financial concerns

Housing affordability is a major stress on families

One in 7 families ranked interest rates and the issue of housing affordability as their number one financial concern.

One in 3 families ranked interest rate rises and housing affordability in their top three financial concerns.

The impact of industrial relations changes on Australian families

One in 4 families ranked industrial relations and the issue of work family balance as their number one concern.

One in 3 families ranked industrial relations and the issue of work family balance in their top three concerns.

Child care availability and affordability is a major source of stress for families

One in 20 families ranked child care costs and availability as their number one financial concern.

One in 7 families ranked child care costs and availability in their top three financial concerns.

Increasing health costs are putting pressure on families

One in 6 families ranked increasing health costs as their number one financial concern.

One in 2 families ranked health costs in their top three financial concerns

One in 20 families ranked the cost of education as their number one financial concern.

One in 5 families ranked the cost of education in their top three financial concerns.