'Stressful, Heartbreaking' Newstart Payment Needs Raise, Welfare Advocates Plead
Local MPs across the country will be bombarded by welfare advocates this week, in a push to increase the miserly Newstart allowance by $75 a week.
People on Newstart and Youth Allowance will be meeting with their local representatives in the coming weeks, as part of a nationwide campaign to convince politicians that the welfare payments -- as little as $40 allowance per day -- is not enough to survive on.
Welfare advocate groups such as the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) have focused long-running campaigns this week with MP meetings, community forums, lunches, rallies, stalls and local council motions across Australia.
Acting CEO of ACOSS, Jacqueline Phillips said people are rallying to increase Newstart as the payment plan has remained stagnant for more than two decades.
"Across the country, people are meeting with their MPs to explain that Newstart is not working -- the rate has not had a real increase in 25 years while living costs have gone through the roof," she said.
"At $40 a day, Newstart is not enough to get people through tough times and into suitable work."
Jeremy Poxon is an advocate with the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union, and a Newstart recipient himself. He told 10 daily that an extra $75 a week -- as some campaigners are pushing for -- would provide an enormous relief for his day-to-day expenses.
"I'm finding myself skipping meals just to get by, so in that immediate sense, that bit of extra money would ensure that I could at least have a bit more security in the sense that I can put a couple of meals on the table every day," he said.
Poxon said the amount currently provided by Newstart forces him to make "stressful, heartbreaking decisions" every week. He said he, and other recipients, are often forced to sacrifice food or socialising in cases where he can't afford a train ticket.
Author and commentator Jane Caro took to Twitter to express her support for raising Newstart, saying older women are disproportionately affected by the problem as they sustain families and place other people's needs before their own.
Caro said it is "particularly appalling to see women over 55 stuck in poverty as a direct result of putting other people's needs ahead of their own as conservatives -- in particular -- told them to."
Poxon said the stress felt by Newstart recipients is compounded by the hoops that the Government forces people to jump through to justify their payments.
"Australia has a notoriously punitive justification system for welfare recipients," he claimed.
Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a new scheme that urged job seekers to start picking fruit for farmers or potentially lose their welfare payments.
The debate to increase the Newstart has been renewed in particular by the Government essentially boosting the payments to old-age pensioners by adjusting deeming rates -- the calculation which determines how much money pensioners are entitled to, based on their existing financial investments.
Australian seniors' group National Seniors has welcomed the change as a start but maintains that the government is "still treating them [pensioners] as if they are earning a higher income than what they are actually earning."
The change to the deeming rates is important because they represent an increase to pensions, which have been targeted as one source in the current welfare system from which cash could be shifted to narrow the poverty gap.
An algorithm that calculates the impact of welfare payments, created by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods late last year, found by cutting the pension and other welfare benefits to raise Newstart, poverty in Australia could be cut by 11 percent at no cost.
However, the Government has remained steadfast in its refusal to increase Newstart and Youth Allowance benefits.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the Coalition's focus is assisting people in finding a job, not increasing welfare payments.
"You've probably heard it a million times and you're going to hear it a million again -- the best form of welfare is a job," Ruston told Sky News on Monday.
In the run up to the federal election, Labor promised it they would review Newstart if it won government, however then-leader Bill Shorten refused to pre-empt the result of such a review.
Poxon said the apprehension for Labor to commit to raising Newstart makes people on welfare feel as though "we do not have an opposition party fighting for us or caring for us in any real way".
A Greens bill to increase Newstart will be introduced into the Senate for debate next week.
Greens spokesperson for family and community services, Senator Rachel Siewert, said the Government and the Opposition must commit to the increase "because people cannot afford to eat properly or find affordable accommodation."
ACOSS calculated that raising the Newstart allowance by $75 per week would boost the economy and keep people above the poverty line, particularly as living costs continue rising.
"People on Newstart must spend everything they receive in order to get by so an increase in Newstart would immediately into the economy," Phillips said.
In September of last year, a report produced by Deloitte Access Economics found increasing the Newstart allowance by $75 per week would lead to a boost in consumer spending and create more than 10,000 jobs across Australia.
Poxon said the Coalition's refusal to address the Newstart rate is "heartless".
"There's many more unemployed people than jobs available," he said.
"This isn't a fun position to be in. This isn't anyone's choosing, we're all desperate to find work."