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NFP Hits Back at Minister for Ignoring ‘Simple Mathematics’ of Newstart

27 September 2016 at 11:52 am
Ellie Cooper
Social Services Minister Christian Porter has been accused of ignoring the gap between job vacancies and unemployed people after he said welfare groups calling for a Newstart increase “lack imagination”.

Ellie Cooper | 27 September 2016 at 11:52 am


NFP Hits Back at Minister for Ignoring ‘Simple Mathematics’ of Newstart
27 September 2016 at 11:52 am

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has been accused of ignoring the gap between job vacancies and unemployed people after he said welfare groups calling for a Newstart increase “lack imagination”.  

Porter recently released plans to “revolutionise” social security spending, with the aim of ending welfare-dependency among at-risk groups.

The government will use data to evaluate which programs result in successful outcomes for welfare recipients starting with young people and discontinue those found to be unsuccessful.

Porter told Sky News that spending more money on welfare was not the answer, in response to Not for Profit organisations calling for an increase of the Newstart unemployment payment, which is currently at $528.70 a fortnight for singles and $477.40 each for couples.

“That is a perfect example of just applying massive increases in money to all of the same processes and systems,” Porter said.

“It’s just more money… more of the same and it carries with it no guarantee that anything will change, that any lives will be improved in terms of their long-term progress.

“I don’t think that is an acceptable way to spend massive amounts of taxpayers’ money. It really lacks imagination. It shows a unwillingness to do things a little bit differently.”

But Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers told Pro Bono Australia News that Porter’s comments ignored “simple mathematics”.

“The ABS stats show us there is 713,300 people who are unemployed and job vacancies of 171,000, so the simple maths tells us we can’t just move people into jobs by making Newstart too little,” Chambers said.

“I accept that it’s a big policy issue in terms of finding the budget for it, but there is overwhelming evidence from every sector that Newstart is inadequate for a decent life.”

She said the government’s refusal to increase Newstart was “purely budgetary” and not about imagination.

“There’s an issue for the government, they want to balance their budget and they don’t want to spend more in social services, so I think it’s purely budgetary,” she said.

“I think we do need to have a conversation about why is it seen to be a bad thing that governments spend money in the social services area.”

Porter also called on welfare organisations to be “open-minded” and work with the government.

Part of the Coalition’s new approach includes a $96 million Try, Test and Learn fund, for the social services sector, academics and other stakeholders to put forward ideas.

“We are inviting them on this journey with us to try and assist us and I would just expect them to be open-minded,” Porter said.

Chambers said Anglicare was open to innovation and had the same goal as the government, but this didn’t change the fact that Newstart was inadequate.

“We would be right there with Minister Porter… we don’t want people on Newstart, we don’t want them on it for a long time,” she said.

“We know that people who aren’t in the workforce are less engaged, they don’t have the same levels of wellbeing overall that people who participate do, so nobody wants people on Newstart.

“But when we’ve got those kind of figures where… there’s something like one job vacancy for every seven unemployed people, and that’s not talking about underemployment… then it’s not a reality.

“There will be people on Newstart and we need to make it adequate so that they can actually use their time on Newstart to look for jobs, to study, to undertake voluntary work… so that when there are jobs they are actually better positioned to take them.”

But she said their research showed people on Newstart spend most of their time and most of their money on basics, searching for where food is on special and “being very imaginative” with their budgeting.

“In fact that’s there the imagination comes in – people on Newstart have to be so imaginative with their budgets and how to make it last a week, but that takes away any energy that they could be putting into looking for jobs if there were jobs available,” she said.

However, Chambers did agree that the current system isn’t working, and said Anglicare was excited to be part of the new approach.

“We’re looking forward to working with the minister and his department as the Try, Test and Learn rolls out, as we can get to actually read the welfare priority approach and work with the figures,” she said.

“But when it comes to it, we still need to actually be talking about the adequacy of Newstart because we’re still in a situation where there aren’t enough jobs for the number of people who are unemployed.

“There is a basic mathematical difficulty, which is there aren’t enough jobs for people who are unemployed… I’m now sure how it could be different if we’re not going to have job creation schemes and we’re not going to be doing some work looking at what a job is for people, and counting other forms of participation for people who are on welfare.

“I think you could talk to anybody on Newstart on the street and they’d tell you it’s not working.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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