JobSeeker cuts would create national crisis, say Christian welfare groups

Christian organisations are calling on the Federal Government to urgently raise income support payments for jobseekers on a permanent basis.

“The time is now,” said Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey, adding that his organisation is “part of the growing chorus of voices calling for an urgent commitment from the government to provide a permanent and adequate increase to income support.”

The additional coronavirus supplement – currently $150 a fortnight – is due to end on March 31. Advocates warn that increasing levels of poverty will result if income support drops back to previous levels, for the 1.6 million Australians relying on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance payments.

“As it currently stands, the additional income support introduced by Government through the Coronavirus Supplement has been wound back and is now insufficient,” said Toomey. “Income support at this level does not, and will not, keep Australians out of poverty and homelessness. The situation will become worse again at the end of March if income support levels return to the old Newstart rate of $40 a day.

” … Returning to these woefully low income support levels would be shattering for so many people who are already struggling to make ends meet. These punitive rates of income support would return people to poverty and push many into homelessness at a time when the Government should be ensuring people’s wellbeing.”

Anglicare Australia has described potential cuts to the JobSeeker payment rate as “a national crisis”.

“The old rate of JobSeeker was frozen for almost three decades. It became a poverty trap, locking people out of work. Week after week, people were coming to us for food parcels and vouchers just to get by,” said Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers.

On the old rate of JobSeeker many people were forced to skip meals and to live on as little as $7 a day.

Research by Anglicare Australia and Uniting Care Australia shows that on the old rate of JobSeeker, many people were forced to skip meals and to live on as little as $7 a day after paying rent.

About three quarters of  jobseekers surveyed (72 per cent) skipped meals every week on the old payment rate, with most skipping an average of three or four meals per week.

And on the old rate, one in ten jobseekers (9 per cent) was forced to couch surf.

“… When the Government lifted JobSeeker, it righted that wrong,” said Chambers. “People out of work were finally given a path out of poverty.

“These cuts will take that hope away – and push people back into poverty and hardship.”

A recent poll of Anglicare’s member agencies across the country – including financial counselling and emergency relief services – showed that 100 per cent also agreed that cuts would lead to “a huge surge in clients who need help”.

“Thousands of Australians will be plunged even further into poverty.” – Brotherhood of St Laurence

The National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia has also called on the government to increase the base rate of Newstart payments on an ongoing basis, in its pre-budget submission for 2021-22.

Meanwhile, Brotherhood of St Laurence is running a #RaisetheRateforGood campaign, asking people to sign a petition for a permanent increase to the JobSeeker payment.

“In the middle of an economic crisis, we can’t pull support from under so many people, and we can’t let the JobSeeker payment revert to below the poverty line,” says the campaign webpage.

“Without job security and adequate social security, thousands of Australians will be plunged even further into poverty.

“Each one of us, at any time, could find ourselves suddenly without a job. When we fall out of employment, we need a fair and adequate social security safety net to catch us.”