Senate committee says JobSeeker Payment must be raised
1 May 2020 at 3:19 pm
But the Coalition has rejected calls for a welfare boost
The federal government needs to increase the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment to ensure welfare recipients do not live in poverty once the coronavirus supplement ends, a Senate inquiry report says.
A Labor and Greens-dominated committee into the adequacy of income support payments found that low welfare rates were driving people into poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
“Significantly, the committee found that the income support system is not meeting its objective of ensuring a minimum standard of living for working-age jobseekers, as too many live in poverty,” the report stated.
While the government has temporarily boosted some welfare payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee said rates must be increased permanently once the crisis ends.
It said the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment should be boosted, but it failed to nominate a specific increase.
However it did point to Parliamentary Budget Office figures that noted a fortnightly income of at least $1,012 was needed to stop people falling into poverty.
By comparison, the JobSeeker Payment rate for a single person was $559 a fortnight before the coronavirus supplement kicked in.
Coalition committee Senators dissented with the main report, arguing “income support for unemployed people in Australia does not function as a wage replacement”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also indicated the $550-a-fortnight coronavirus supplement will not be extended beyond the crisis.
Welfare advocates demand action
The report has been used by the social sector to renew long-running calls to raise the rate of the JobSeeker Payment (formerly Newstart) – which hasn’t permanently risen in real terms since 1994.
ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said now more than ever, Australians were seeing “why we need to have a decent social safety net in place at all times”.
She said the increased JobSeeker Payment must be extended.
“Cutting people’s already low incomes, especially during the national recovery effort, would only take the economy backwards,” Goldie said.
“Beyond the current crisis, we must ensure that our social security system provides the support that people need to get by, including single parents, people with disability, carers and those struggling with the cost of rent.”
Anglicare Australia also renewed its call to raise income support payments for good.
The charity’s recent Rental Affordability Snapshot found that without the coronavirus supplement, just nine rentals out of 69,997 properties in Australia would be affordable for people on the JobSeeker Payment.
Executive director Kasy Chambers said things would only get worse as the economic fallout from the pandemic unfolds.
“With record numbers of Australians losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands more people will be relying on JobSeeker. Without action, thousands would be pushed into rental stress or homelessness,” Chambers said.
She said future income support rates should be set by an independent commission, to make sure they were raised permanently and did not fall behind again.
“Our sector has been calling for an independent income support commission for years – and the public agrees. Sixty-one per cent of Australians polled by Anglicare Australia want these rates to be set independently of government,” she said.
“If the government won’t listen to inquiries, experts, or its own MPs – and if it won’t respect the evidence – then it’s time to hand the power over to someone who will.”