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'A Deep Wound On The Soul': Another Failure To Raise Newstart Slammed

The budget has yet again failed to increase the Newstart welfare payment, an omission in a big-spending budget that has been slammed as a “deep wound on the nation’s soul”.

The welfare payment for job seekers will remain anchored at less than $278 per week -- just $39 a day -- for the foreseeable future.

Despite a tiny recent rise in the rate, that increase was below inflation and the payment has not increased in real terms for decades.

It remains far below the official poverty line, and experts from social groups to leading economists have made the case for a substantial boost to the payment to ensure recipients can achieve a healthy and decent standard of living.

But the Newstart rate remained untouched in the 2019 budget, and its recipients will not even be lucky enough to get the modest one-off payment of $75 for energy bill help.

John Falzon, formerly of St Vincent De Paul and now of think tank Per Capita, was quick to decry the government’s failure to touch the payment.

"The failure to increase Newstart remains a deep wound in the nation's soul," Falzon said.

"Instead of healing this wound, the government has rubbed salt in it."

Some people living on the Newstart welfare payment are surviving on just $17 a day after paying for accommodation, according to 2018 research from the Salvation Army, with more than 80 percent of their money going to simply keeping a roof over their heads.

According to the Australian Council of Social Services, the Newstart rate has not increased in real terms in 24 years. A new report from respected accounting firm Deloitte found that lifting allowances by $75 per week would lead to a boost for the Australian economy and to regional communities -- as people on the lowest incomes would immediately spend any pay increase, ensuring more payments would be pumped right back into the economy.

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Greens senator Jordon Steele-John said there was “absolutely nothing in this budget for young people,” also complaining of a “pittance” for climate change action, which he described as “the largest intergenerational challenge of our time.”

“Failing to address climate change while investing in disaster relief is like investing in fireproofing while letting the arsonist run free,” he told 10 daily.

“It’s absolutely disconnected from reality.”

JORDON STEELE JOHN
Greens senator Jordon Steele-John. Photo: AAP

Desiree Cai, President of the National Union of Students, said on Tuesday that young people and students “have been neglected” by this budget.

“The majority of students are living in poverty,” she said.

“Students and young people do not care about the budget surplus, in the context of a plant that is dying. We are sick of being neglected by this Government.”

The national president of the St Vincent de Paul society, Claire Victory, also was left disappointed that the welfare payment was not increased.

“The continuing refusal to address the low level of support for people on Newstart is harsh. The Government’s ‘commitment to fairness’ does not deliver one cent of the one-off energy assistance cash payment to Newstart recipients,” she said.

“This is a poor reflection of Australians’ commitment to giving everyone ‘a fair-go’.”

Steele-John also slammed the government for reducing the amount of payments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The scheme, the government pointed out, has been fully funded -- but a combination of factors, including slower-than-expected takeup, has led to $1.6 billion less in payments than what was allocated, and which has been absorbed back into the budget bottom line.

Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen told 10 News First of his similar concerns.

"A quarter of this surplus is on the backs of the disabled," Bowen said.

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Steele-John had a similar view. “They are attempting to balance the budget on the backs of disabled people,” Steele-John told 10 daily.

“People couldn’t spend the funds they needed to spend, therefore they didn’t spend as much money as they’d budgeted. Instead of going back to fix the problems on the underspend, they put the money back in the piggy bank, and that’s wrong.”

“It’s bloody infuriating.”

Contact the author: jbutler@networkten.com.au