The campaign to increase the base rate of Newstart Allowance has focused on the hand to mouth existence of those on the payment, who receive a minimum of $35 a day before other payments like Rent Assistance are added.
The welfare lobby want a $50 a week increase in the base rate of Newstart - an increase that will cost taxpayers anywhere between $8 billion and $15 billion over the forward estimates.
Even the Business Council of Australia (BCA) argues the payment ‘itself now presents a barrier to employment and risks entrenching poverty.’ While the payment certainly provides for a frugal existence, there has been little discussion about how a $50 a week increase in payments will help people move off welfare and into work.
We were greeted with the news this week that Centrelink staff have been ordered to make phone calls to more than 80,000 single parents to apologise after advising them to destroy their pensioner concession cards.
This is the latest disaster in Labor’s approach to welfare reform. The government announced last year that it would be moving long term single parents from the parenting payment to the unemployment benefit when their youngest child turned 12.
A few weeks later, in an effort to balance the budget, Mr Swan cut the age to eight.
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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.
The Julia Gillard surfing team, that wretched group that dines large on the taxpayer’s nipple, has it too good. This lot earns a whopping $300 a week (with rent assistance) enabling them to do all sorts of glamorous things like have caviar food fights in mumsie’s champagne cellar.
Or maybe not. After all, this is a world where rent can equal as much of 50 to 70% of that payment before they feed themselves.
Research by the National Welfare Rights Network found that if a person’s income was reduced to $243 a week (Newstart without rent assistance) “more than 60 per cent would stop buying fresh food and almost half would not visit a doctor when sick.” By contrast an aged pensioner with rent assistance earns $386 per week – 28% more than someone on Newstart.
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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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When you think of the long-term unemployed, it is unlikely that the first image that comes to mind is of a grandparent.
Yet the reality is that over a quarter of people on Newstart Allowance are in their fifties and sixties, and one third of the long-term unemployed are in these age brackets.
The issues around age discrimination in the workforce are disturbing and need to be addressed if we are to ensure our economy remains sustainable as the population ages.
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It was the controversial program at the heart of the Northern Territory intervention. Many Indigenous people had their welfare money quarantined to a Basics card that could be used to only buy essentials like bread, instead of well, non-essentials, like booze.
It was quite controversial too, when the Federal Government announced they were going to trial a similar income management program at five sites around Australia, including Bankstown in Sydney’s west. You might remember The Punch tested the waters there before the policy came into practice earlier this year.
The scheme became reality July 1. It’s been operating for nearly 60 days now. But the uproar’s been muted in Bankstown of late. Why?
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A controversial policy from the Northern Territory intervention has managed to get through the atrocious congestion on the M4 to arrive in Bankstown, in Sydney’s south-west. And some locals aren’t feeling particularly welcoming.
“Income management” is coming to the suburb - a cultural melting pot - in July. It basically means that the Government will give some people on welfare assistance a “Basics” card that contains a significant percentage of their allowances (ie Newstart or the Family Tax Benefit). The card can only be used to pay for “essentials” like food and rent, not to squander hundreds on the Queen of the Nile pokie at Bankstown Sports.
Bankstown is one of just five places where the Federal Government has chosen to roll the program out to a thousand people, the others being Logan and Rockhampton in Queensland, Playford in SA and Shepparton in Victoria. But the opposition to it is particularly making a racket about it in Bankstown.
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