Contributed by Adam Carlton
It does not take a brains trust to work out that payments by Centrelink are poor, and Newstart, the payment for the unemployed, is the worst of the lot.
Newstart has not been raised in real terms since 1994. This makes unemployment benefits in Australia the second lowest in the developed world, suggests the OECD.
At merely $267 per week, it is well under half of the minimum wage and well below the poverty line, according to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
Suggestions that those on the dole are doing it easy are ludicrous. It can mean poor access to adequate food, health needs, the capacity to pay bills, the risk of homelessness and social isolation.
An article in the Independent Australia by Pas Forgione (21 June 22017) quotes Joel, who is on Newstart and captures many of the ways that living in poverty affects your physical and mental wellbeing:
“I often have to skip breakfast and lunch every day in order to save money. I do not feel I eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables; I look for specials and Black and Gold products. Nutrition never enters into what I buy, how cheap it is the only thing I’m capable of buying. If my income was higher, I would be able to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, things other than frozen products; I would buy more food in general if I could afford it.
“I think every day about my finances. I’m living from hand to mouth without any chance to save or prepare for the future.
“Very rarely am I able to see my family and friends … my family lives in a different state and I haven’t seen them in about two years due to being unable to afford the travel expenses, with no chance of being able to join in on family occasions or holidays. Leaving the house is hard, even bus transport affects my budget, so leaving my house as little as possible is necessary. Any kind of community activity, festivals or events, getting there, buying anything whilst there, is beyond my income, and means any bus ticket or drink or food I buy there effects my income and ability to pay for rent, groceries and bills.
“I feel as if relationships are impossible until I’m able to support myself”.
Contrary to other suggestions, there are not enough jobs to go around and some individuals will be left out. On top of this, there is still the need to match qualifications, skills and experience with those that are going. There is also discrimination. Youth loses out because lack of experience. Older job seekers lose out, because they are considered too old. Women still face discrimination in some areas. The average length of time spent unemployed is growing, with 70 percent remaining out of work for 12 months or longer, according to Centrelink data.
A growing proportion of the workforce has been forced by circumstances into precarious employment, meaning periods in and out of work.
Despite this, the Centrelink system treats those on Newstart as malingerers. The same treatment is given to those on other benefits. But it is the unemployed who get the worst of it.
The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia has called for a minimum increase of $100 per week for Newstart and on 5 July, launched an open letter to the Federal Government, highlighting some of the health impacts of our impoverishing, punishing welfare system and calling for drastic changes.
The letter was endorsed by many state and national organisations, including the Australian Public Health Association, the Australian Health Promotion Association, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and Uniting Communities.