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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2979

(Question No. 811)

Senator Messner asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 5 April 1984:

(1) Are widows under 45 years of age and without dependants able to receive the widow's pension.

(2) Is it departmental practice for officers of the Department of Social Security to advise such widows to apply for unemployment benefits.

(3) Does the Minister for Social Security recognise that such women may be without a vocation or without employable skills or may be caring for children aged over 16 years who may themselves be unemployed and that, as a consequence, unemployment benefits are not a real alternative for these women.

(4) Does the Minister have any specific measures in mind to assist widows who find themselves in this situation.

Senator Grimes —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Yes, a widow's pension may be payable to a widow under 45 years without dependants during the 26 weeks following the death of her husband if in the opinion of the Director-General of Social Security she is in necessitous circumstances during that period.

(2) If the widow without dependants is not qualified for pension, or is without assistance when the pension ceases, it is the practice for officers of my Department to advise her of the other benefits available. Unemployment benefit is generally appropriate but if the widow is in ill health or other special circumstances exist, invalid pension, sickness benefit or special benefit may be appropriate.

(3) and (4) I am aware of the difficulties that these widows may experience when faced with the prospect of having to enter or re-enter the workforce. However, I do not agree that unemployment benefit is necessarily an inappropriate form of assistance for them. Nor do I agree that the answer lies simply in extending eligibility for Class B widows pension. In my view there is a strong case for considering measures which have regard more directly to the individual's capacity or potential to support themselves.

A committee of inquiry is currently undertaking a major review of the Government's labour market programs. Among other things, the Committee will be reviewing the adequacy of existing programs in facilitating the training and entry or re-entry of individuals into the labour force. The outcome of this review should be particularly relevant to the consideration of measures to assist women in the circumstances described.