How would you define a bonus? Odds are it’d be more than a couple of gold coins a week.
Bu that’s the sum and total of the Federal Government’s recently announced “battler’s bonus” – that’s an additional dole payment of four dollars per week to some of the country’s poorest people.
Four dollars is an insulting amount of money. It shows no genuine regard for the realities of the expensive cost of living in this country. In fact, it’s completely worthless.
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On Tuesday around 100,000 single parents of children aged eight and over were shafted off - and I mean shafted - the parenting payment and onto the much lesser Newstart allowance.
Those who don’t work at all will be around $115 worse off a fortnight, while those who already work to supplement their support will lose 40 cents in each payment dollar, for every dollar they earn over $31 a week.
What a disgraceful turn of events for a Labor Government to expand the former Howard government’s retrograde targeting of single, low income families - some of the most financially vulnerable adults and children in our society.
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As the saying goes, “If you think the system is working, ask someone who isn’t”.
In Australia, the person you ask is likely to be trying to pay, rent, bills, food and the costs of looking for work on a Newstart allowance of just $35 per day. They are likely to be struggling to survive, let alone return to the workforce, and to be increasingly isolated from the community.
Standing up for the rights of the unemployed has never been politically popular. But in Australia we have a situation where the gradual decline in unemployment benefits has left us with a Newstart allowance that is no longer enough to live on for more than a few weeks.
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In the recent Anti-Poverty Week we discovered, believe it or not, poverty has been falling.
The proportion of Australians in poverty increased from 11.9 per cent in 2003 to 14.5 per cent in 2007, but then declined to 12.3 per cent by 2010, according to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) publication Poverty in Australia.
If this sounds a bit fishy to you, you would be right. Common sense suggests that poverty should decrease when the economy is strong (as it was from 2003 to 2007), and increase when the economy gets weaker (as it did from 2007 to 2010).
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Could you survive on $150 a week? Because that’s effectively what we’re asking our unemployed to do every single week.
A few weeks ago I spent a week living on the dole for a feature story. I had just $150 to spend on groceries, public transport, electricity bills, mobile phone, medications, photocopying of my resume and an outfit to wear to job interviews.
I had no car, no internet, no computer, no food from my pantry, no private health insurance, and no Foxtel. I had always thought the dole payment was rather generous. After all, how do all those surfies survive on it? But the current level of Newstart allowance is so grossly inadequate I was shocked.
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John*, who was unemployed for almost five years, says despite having to go into his Job Services Australia provider in order qualify for benefits, they never really gave him much help.
“I would go into my JSA provider once a month, have a meeting with my case worker where I would have to prove I was actually looking for jobs. She would never have any jobs for me to apply for; she would never suggest any specific jobs I should apply for or have any suggestions on what jobs I could do. Let alone actually finding jobs for me or setting up interviews for me, which is what I thought they would do,” he said.
The Commonwealth Government’s Job Services Australia (JSA) program replaced the Coalition’s old Job Network and is a moderate improvement on the old system. However, the JSA system is largely failing. Department figures show only 8 per cent of JSA clients get full-time work each year. But it’s a system which has made some JSA provider owners into millionaires off taxpayer money.
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It’s easy to blame people for being outside the labour market or on its low-paid fringes. It’s easy when you’re passing judgment from a comfortable vantage point, well above the fray.
The members of my organisation, the St Vincent de Paul Society, however, are painfully close to the reality of poverty in a prosperous nation.
Every day, we see how hard it is to survive on social security payments. The people who have been left out of the economic prosperity that has been generated in this lucky country are waging a daily battle for survival. It’s a battle that is being waged from below the poverty line.
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There was a chilling line in a Daily Telegraph piece on girl gangs back in 2008. Reporter Lauren Williams had a 2.30am chat with a Glebe teen called “Carson” in the article.
“Carson” explained why she and her friends stole.
“If the government gave us more money then we wouldn’t have to rob people,” she said, apparently satisfied she had delivered an impregnable justification for purse snatching, shop lifting and mugging.
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Your task is simple. Here is $115.50. It must last one week. You have no savings, no assets, but thankfully you’ve already paid your rent. That’s about $16 a day to cover food, bills, transport, entertainment and hygiene products.
We hope you like never going out, watching television and that none of your loved ones ever require a birthday present. Hopefully you’re not someone who requires much medication or needs to go the Doctor. We do hope you like basic carbohydrates or can cope with the embarrassment of having to ask a charity for a food parcel.
Welcome to the world of Australia’s depressed, stigmatised and disempowered Newstart recipients.
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There’s no way taxpayers should be supporting fit young people to lounge around for years on the dole, smoking joints and listening to Pink Floyd.
And no one wants their hard-earned being spent on a wannabe writer who houseshares with other ‘creatives’ living the dream while we eke out a meagre office-bound existence, soothed only by Friday night drinks and dreams of what might have been.
And we’ll be damned if we pay tax after levy after carbon price while someone who has ‘self esteem’ issues can’t get out of bed before lunch.
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