The coronavirus pandemic may be the catalyst for a permanent increase to the unemployment benefit, with several consumer and social groups pushing against a return to the former rate of $565.70 after the stimulus payments conclude in September.
Currently, those who are eligible for JobSeeker payments are receiving virtually double that amount thanks to the $550 Coronavirus Supplement payments.
Those payments were slated to end on 24 September. Several groups, including the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), as well as political parties Labor and the Greens have long advocated for a permanent increase to JobSeeker.
According to ACTU, JobSeeker should never return to levels of the former allowance, which would endanger both the health and safety of the unemployed as well as the economy’s recovery.
“JobSeeker isn’t just important during the pandemic – it is essential that people looking for work have time and security to find a job,” said ACTU president Michele O’Neil.
“The $40 a day rate of NewStart was a poverty trap so low that it stopped people having the resources they needed to survive while looking for work.”
No one should fall into poverty when they lose their job, she added. “Any move to cut the rate will be opposed.
“A cut to the rate during the recovery would be a disaster for working people, devastating for those already out of work and would be a crushing blow to the economy.
“The Morrison Government could give security to hundreds of thousands of workers by guaranteeing they will not cut JobSeeker.”
ACOSS is today urging Australians to write to their local MPs in a national campaign called ‘Raise the Rate’ aimed at pushing against a return to the JobSeeker rate of $40.41 a day.
According to a recent survey by the National Council of Single Mothers, the temporarily increased JobSeeker payment had allowed for nearly 7 in 10 families to purchase and eat healthier foods.
“We cannot turn back to the brutality of leaving people without paid work to try to get by on just $40 per day – the old Newstart rate,” said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.
According to the Raise the Rate website, this rate was not enough to cover basic costs, including housing, food (including fresh food), transport, bills, medical and healthcare needs.
“As we continue to deal with this health crisis, more people than ever before will struggle to find paid work.”
What’s more, recent ABS figures show there is currently only one job opening available for every 13 people on JobSeeker.
“We’re calling on the Government to announce in the mini budget on July 23 a permanent, adequate increase to income support that allows people to cover the basics – housing, food, public transport, bills – so that they can rebuild their lives,” Goldie said.
Among the signatories are the Australian Medical Association, Cancer Council Australia, the Centre for Economic Development of Australia, the Country Women’s Association, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, ACTU, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, People with Disability Australia, the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, and Council on the Ageing Australia.
On Thursday 18 June, sources told the ABC the federal government was likely to increase the unemployment benefit in Treasurer Josh Frydeberg’s mini-budget on 23 July.
But ten days later, Social Services Minister Anne Rushton said reports of a $75 a week increase to JobSeeker were “factually incorrect”.
A recent Senate inquiry report said there is “compelling evidence” that the current rate of income support was inadequate.
“Significantly, the committee found that the income support system is not meeting its objective of ensuring a minimum standard of living for working-age jobseekers, as too many live in poverty,” the review stated.
The Coalition has resisted calls to increase JobSeeker, formerly Newstart, for years.