The Prime Minister has been criticised by Australia’s national advocate welfare body while a Greens senator has provided a blunt reply over the federal government’s JobSeeker increase.
The federal government announced that more than 1.95 million Aussies on welfare will receive a boost of $50 a fortnight, or $3.57 a day, at the end of March.
Scott Morrison announced a rise to the rate of the JobSeeker payment at a cost of $9bn on Tuesday, but not every one is happy.
The move follows a long-running campaign from welfare advocates, who say unemployed Australians cannot not live on $40 a day.
The base rate of JobSeeker is currently $570.80 a fortnight. But pressure has been mounting on the government to raise the rate with the $150 coronavirus supplement for welfare recipients ending in late March.
From April 1, jobseekers, single parents and young people on welfare payments receive $25 extra a week.
- JobSeeker recipients will get $620.80 a fortnight
- JobSeeker recipients getting Commonwealth rent assistance will get $760.40 a fortnight
- Single parents with a child under the age of eight will receive $850.20 a fortnight
- People on JobSeeker, over the age of 60, or who care for a child over the age of 8 will receive $676.30 a fortnight, including the energy supplement
Mr Morrison said the government enhanced the social safety net with the COVID supplement to ensure it could respond to the overwhelming demand placed on it as people found themselves unemployed because of the pandemic.
“We are now confident that at the end of next month that our social safety net can once again be able to provide the support it needs to Australians as we come out of the COVID-19 recession,” he said.
“But we’ve also formed the view that that base level of support that exists within our social safety net needs to be adjusted for the long term.
“That will lead to an increase of $50 per fortnight in that base payment.”
The boost is the single biggest increase since 1986 and raises the rate from 37.5 per cent to 41.2 per cent of the national minimum wage.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert said in a statement it was an “extremely distressing day for the 1.5 million people on the JobSeeker payment”.
“$44 a day is not enough to live on. This will mean people going without meals, without medication, without the funds to pay for heating or cooling,” she said.
“This should not be happening in a country as wealthy as Australia.
“This is an appalling slap in the face for all those people trying to survive on Jobseeker.
“It’s a complete and utter joke, it makes a mockery of the government’s saying that they care about those that are doing it tough in this country.”
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie had demanded a permanent increase of at least $25 a day and warned an increase should not come at the expense of other vital allowances.
However, the expected rise falls well short of her expectations.
“We cannot leave people to make impossible choices between food, rent, bills basic toiletries and medications,” Dr Goldie had said.
“Everyone should be able to cover the basics of their life, including people with disability and single parents who are on the JobSeeker Payment.”
“This is a heartless betrayal of millions of people with the least, including hundreds of thousands of children, single parents, people with disability, older people, students, people dealing with illness and injury, and others relying on income support.
“Today, the Government has turned its back on those with the least, plunging people further into poverty. It’s a cruel decision that shows a complete lack of humanity and empathy. It comes as devastating news for so many and will have serious consequences for people’s lives, including homelessness and crushing debt.
“Already, at $51 a day with the temporary Coronavirus Supplement, people on JobSeeker are currently being forced to make impossible decisions, choosing between housing, food, medications, basic toiletries and paying bills.”
The Prime Minister backed the move in Canberra, describing the $9 billion price tag as a “considerable expense to taxpayers”.
“I have no doubt that whatever rate you set the payment, there will always be suggestions by some that it should be more. There’ll be some who will suggest it should be less. That’s why a government has to exercise judgement in getting that balance right,” he said.
Under further changes, the income-free area will also be raised by $150 per fortnight for people on JobSeeker and youth allowance.
The one-week waiting period to receive welfare will also be extended until June 30.
Jobseekers will now need to apply for 15 jobs a month, up from eight, and this will increase to 20 come July.
After six months on welfare people will also be required to enhance their employability with a shortcourse or work experience.
A hotline will also be established for employers to ‘dob in’ dole-bludgers who turn down jobs they are offered.
Under a raft of welfare reforms, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said employers would be able to dob in unemployed Aussies who don’t take up jobs they are offered.
Senator Cash said the reporting line would go to her department and would prompt a follow-up with the individual.
“In the event that they do not have a valid reason, they will be breached for that,” Senator Cash said.
“We will, at the same time, be increasing the number of audits of our job providers.”
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan told Sky News that before the coronavirus pandemic, I thought it was fair to look at increasing the unemployment assistance because it was “very low”.
“That was all before we racked one trillion dollars up on the nation’s credit card,” Senator Canavan said.
“I just think we’re borrowing too much from overseas, too much from the Chinese government, we can’t put ourselves in that kind of vulnerable position.”
Senator Canavan said $50 a fortnight may be a reasonable rise but he said he would look at it closely.
“Every decision now, post-coronavirus, has to be evaluated on how much are we going to borrow, how much debt we are racking up,” he said.
“Especially decisions like this that will be baked in for the long-term. The JobSeeker supplement was meant to be temporary.”
Opposition social services spokeswoman Linda Burney said Labor would look at any changes to welfare supplements and the requirement to apply for jobs, when the government unveils the new rate.
“I want to see whether it’s a permanent increase or a temporary increase,” Ms Burney said.
Labor has not committed to an amount it would raise JobSeeker by, if it was in government.