'Found' $60 billion should be invested to keep struggling Australians above the poverty line


I felt quite emotional when I heard that the Government would be giving an additional $550 per fortnight for six months to people on the Jobseeker payment (formerly Newstart) as we entered a very difficult time where hundreds of thousands of people would suddenly be losing work.

I thought about the unnecessary desperation and suffering that people in our community have been through. The single mothers going without meals so they can feed their children, people choosing between their medication or dinner and those living in unsafe situations because there are no rental properties that you can afford when you are living so far below the poverty line on $40 a day.

I’ve been campaigning, alongside the community, for an increase to Newstart for a very long time - a payment that hasn’t had an increase in real terms since 1994. I’ve been hearing from people about what they are doing with the increase – eating better, looking after their health, buying medication and a range of other things that will also help them find work.

Now it breaks my heart that the Morrison government plans to reduce Jobseeker back to below poverty levels at the end of September. I consider this reckless, unfair and fiscally irresponsible.

Nationally the unemployment rate sits at 6.2 per cent with the underemployment rate at 13.7 per cent, the highest on record. Many experts believe these figures mask the true unemployment rate. The statistics don’t include people who were employed but worked zero hours and people who had a dramatic decline in the number of hours worked or those who have dropped out of the labour force all together.

If the rate of Jobseeker goes back to $40 a day at the end of September as the government has planned, what are the thousands of unemployed Western Australians going to survive on and how will it impact our economy?

In Western Australia our unemployment rate is 6 per cent with 62,300 people losing their jobs in April. WA has also suffered the second largest workforce-participation-rate decrease in the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said that “people are in jobs, they don’t need income support”. This statement misses the point and is like saying if people aren't sick, they don't need hospitals. The unfortunate truth is, this health- and economic crisis will not be over at the end of September and thousands of Western Australians are going to be unemployed and they will need an adequate amount of money to eat and pay their rent or mortgage.

A key finding of the recent Senate inquiry into Newstart that I chaired reported that to meet the OECD relative measure of poverty a fortnightly income of $1012 is needed. There was clear evidence that the income support system itself is acting as a key barrier to employment because of the inadequate payment rates that force people into poverty.

The committee report clearly indicates what everyone already knew that the pre-COVID 19 Jobseeker payment rates of just $40 a day do not support an acceptable minimum standard of living.

I’m very concerned that we aren’t properly considering the full picture of unemployment and underemployment and hence the scale of investment and action that is needed as we come out of this crisis.

The revised Jobkeeper figures or the unspent $60 billion that was “found” on Friday means that the government is very fast running out of excuses to return the Jobseeker payment to $40 a day at the end of September. The choices our government makes now to help us get through this crisis could set a better course for the future of our communities.

We can and should choose to adequately support those people impacted by the high unemployment rates, no income support payment should be below the poverty line.

Cutting income support payments to those who need it most is a choice, not an inevitability. I never again want to see people in our community denied dignity, forced to live on $40 a day because the jobs are simply not there.

Now is the time for bold government investment to drive our economy into the future and to ensure people's well-being. If we make the right decisions, we can create hundreds of thousands of good jobs, ensure everyone has an income they can live on, set young people up for the future and transition to a clean energy economy.

“This article was first published on watoday. Read the original article.”

 


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