Salvation Army latest voice to call for lift in unemployment benefit

AT the start of the month, Liberal MP Julia Banks found herself the object of public ridicule when she said could live on the $40 a day –or $545.80 a fortnight – that a single person with no dependants receiveson the unemployment allowance, Newstart.

Even the head of the Business Council of , Jennifer Westacott, said it was impossible to live on that amount, but when Scott Morrison unveiled thebudget a few days later, Newstart was left as is. Former prime minister John Howard, who put a freeze on Newstart payments in the 1990s, alsoweighed into the debate, saying he believed the policy had “probably gone on too long”.

While the Greens say they are reviving their push for a $150-a-fortnightincrease in the allowance, opposition leader Bill Shorten skirted around the subject in his budget reply speech, saying only that Labor would review the payment system.

As the n Council of Social Service points out, theHoward government’s freeze on Newstart payments mean they havefallen substantially, in proportional terms.

By comparison, theFair Work Commission has setthe national minimum wage for 38 hours at $694.9 a week or $1389.80 a fortnight. A recent University of NSW study found a basic life –rent,food, transport, clothing, health-care and power bills –cost$433 a week or $866 a fortnight.

And now, an annual Salvation Army survey of those using its services has found the average Newstart recipient is living on $17 a day once accommodation costs aretaken care of. The survey does not paint a pretty picture, with 40 per cent of those surveyed experiencing “food insecurity”. Half moved house in the past year, with a quarter moving because of family violence. More than half say they are going backwards financially.

The Coalition government has traditionally viewed Newstart as a temporary payment to tide people over between supposedly short-termbouts of unemployment but official statistics show that more than 180,000 people are unemployed for more than a year, with more than half of these jobless for at least two years. If someone cannot work, our society is wealthy enough to ensure that no person should be left behind. If the government is looking to spend the billions it will not be losing in big business tax cuts, returning Newstart to something like its old relativity would be a good start.

ISSUE: 38,907.

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