Anti-poverty advocates slam ‘cruel’ welfare cuts
10 November 2020 at 4:37 pm
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says keeping the current supplement rate would “hold Australia back”
Community groups are dismayed by the federal government’s decision to slash the coronavirus supplement by $100 a fortnight, warning this will cause anguish and hardship for Australians on income support.
The government announced on Tuesday that the supplement – due to end on 31 December – would be extended until 31 March next year on a reduced rate of $150 a fortnight.
This payment boost was originally set at $550 per fortnight in March, but was reduced to $250 in September.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while Australia’s COVID support schemes had been effective in cushioning the blow of the crisis, they now needed to be re-calibrated.
“We cannot allow the lifeline that has been extended to also now hold Australia back as we move into the next phases of recovery,” Morrison said.
“Jobs are returning. Job advertisements have doubled since May on the most recent figures in October and we know that employers are looking for people to come back to work and we need [the] right settings in place to support that.”
Anti-poverty groups are disappointed by the announcement, with advocates concerned the reduction will drive people into poverty.
The Australian Council of Social Service said rather than making cuts, the federal government should instead put in place a permanent, adequate rate of income support.
Research from ACOSS in September found the original $550 coronavirus supplement – which supports around 2.3 million unemployed people, students, and parents – meant many welfare recipients no longer needed to skip meals to survive.
Over 80 per cent of the people surveyed reported eating better and more regularly, and 70 per cent said they had been able to catch-up on bills and expenses.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the looming cuts would put a dampener on many people’s Christmas holidays.
“We’re warning the government against a Christmas cut for people on the lowest incomes. This would be a cruel and damaging mistake, hurting people doing it tough, as well as the country’s economic recovery,” Goldie said.
“Instead of short-term measures and cuts, we need a permanent, adequate rate of income support so that people can cover the basics and rebuild their lives.”
Anglicare Australia has also urged the government to reconsider.
Deputy executive director Imogen Ebsworth said a higher income support rate was needed to give people a pathway out of poverty.
“This new cut will cause anguish and real hardship for Australians out of work. It will push them into poverty – instead of helping them stay on their feet,” Ebsworth said.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union put out a statement labelling the plan “obscene” and “heartless”.
“Any government that makes a decision to force people to live in poverty is morally bankrupt. It’s a choice,” the AUWU said.
Welfare cuts met with opposition in Parliament
Labor and The Greens have both voiced their opposition to the planned supplement cut.
The ALP’s social services’ spokesperson Linda Burney said cutting unemployment support too soon would make the recession longer and deeper.
She has called for the supplement to be retained at $250, at least until the end of March in line with JobKeeper.
“Cutting unemployment and economic support will not just place Australians who have lost their jobs at risk of hardship and poverty, it jeopardises jobs,” Burney said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert condemned the decision and called on the government to increase JobSeeker permanently so it is above the poverty line (as it was with the original $550 supplement).
“It is cruel and dehumanising to keep pushing people further into poverty at Christmas time by taking the JobSeeker supplement even further below the poverty line,” Siewert said.