Newstart Recipients Threw A Fake Birthday Celebration Outside Frydenberg's Office
The federal budget again had no decent increase to the Newstart payment, for the 25th year in a row, so welfare recipients "celebrated" outside Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's office with cake and balloons.
"It’s 25 years since a decent increase, so we thought we’d do a mock dark celebration," Jeremy Poxon, of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU), told 10 daily.
The AUWU and a handful of Newstart recipients came to Frydenberg's office, in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell, with some decorations fit for a proper party -- candles, party hats, streamers, and of course, a supermarket mud cake.
"25 years is a huge birthday milestone, so as you can see, we've brought cake, balloons and party favours so Mr Frydenberg knows we're all thinking about him on this very special occasion," Poxon said.
Also in their clutches were letters from hundreds of Newstart recipients, testifying to the difficulty of living on the meagre welfare payment -- just $278 a week for a single person, $40 per day.
Frydenberg and the Coalition were slammed again on Tuesday for yet another federal budget without a meaningful rise to the Newstart unemployment benefit. While other payments, such as the age pension, have risen significantly in real terms in recent years, Newstart has only risen with inflation -- and in some years, below the inflation rate, meaning an effective pay cut.
It remains far below the official poverty line, and experts everywhere 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. 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, calling it "a deep wound in the nation's soul" on budget night.
The Australian Council of Social Service has long urged the government to immediately raise payments, with a new report from accounting giant Deloitte finding that lifting the allowance would be a major boost for the national economy and regional communities.
One of those who shared her story on Thursday was a woman named Claire, from Tasmania. She told 10 daily that, despite having several TAFE certificates and workplace tickets, she has been unable to secure ongoing work -- and while she is occasionally employed in roadworks or in odd jobs, she often has to rely solely on the Newstart payment.
"You can't live off Newstart alone. I’ll often sell things from around the house, or I’ll create things I can sell like pot plants, or I'll do some gardening for someone, so I can get a bit more money," she said.
"Sometimes when I don't have any money, I just go to bed. What else can you do?"
Claire said she only eats one meal a day, usually white carbs like rice or pasta, and can very rarely afford meat. She once joked to a Centrelink caseworker that she was considering taking up sex work or drug-dealing, simply to make ends meet.
"I'm often borrowing off friends and family. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul," Claire said.
"I've got a car loan, a fridge loan. Power, petrol and food are my luxuries, and I have to choose which is the most important each week. Usually it's petrol, so I can get to job interviews."
While the Treasurer was not at his office on Thursday -- he was still in Canberra, selling the budget -- the AUWU left letters stuck to his front door.
Poxon said the demonstration outside Frydenberg's office was to mark that, while the government is crowing about a forecast budget surplus, many Australians are doing it tough and desperately need help.
"This surplus has come as a result of Newstart and social security recipients, and people with disabilities, having their support being cut away to unburden the budget," he said.
"We've been left scratching our heads about what more we could do to convince government and the opposition to lift the rate."
The Coalition government has ruled out any meaningful increase to Newstart, arguing that it is meant to only be a temporary payment. Labor has committed only to a review of the payment, not confirming any plans to increase it.
"They're giving away billions in tax cuts. We see that, we're not stupid. Money is available to do this," Poxon said.