Newstart is not enough for basic needs

Contributed from Western Australia

David Ciady reported on the ABC’s PM radio that Australians on Newstart, Centrelink’s unemployment benefit,researchers at the University of New South Wales say that current payments are not enough to meet basic necessities,

The key points they found are:

  • Payments fall short of “basic standard of living cost” by $47 to $126 per week.
  • They suggest introducing minimum wage-style “mechanism” for Newstart allowance
  • Newstart hasn’t been increased in over two decades in real terms.

Researchers at the university have calculated weekly budgets for a range of living situations, working out the minimum required to ensure both material and social needs are met.

Among their findings, are that the welfare payment for a single, unemployed person as stated on Centrelink’s  Welfare table, needs to increase by $96 a week to $433, while an unemployed couple with no children should be provided $107 more than they do currently, just to get them up to the poverty line.

Peter Saunders, who led the research, said the findings suggest a change is needed in how Newstart payments are determined independent of government.

“We should be looking at whether or not it’s time to introduce a mechanism, a bit like the minimum wage process, for Newstart allowance and possibly for other social benefits,” Professor Saunders said.

“These are very tight budgets to achieve what we call a healthy standard of living, so that all the family members are healthy in terms of what they eat, they do, [and whether they] exercise.

Newstart recipient Johnny Windus, from the Perth suburb of Kemscott, has been out of work for two years and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I basically receive a Newstart allowance, which is $580 a fortnight. Nothing in life is free so you do your necessities in a budget, but it’s all the extras that come into it that drive you under every week,” he said.

“You end up having to forfeit food, or putting your electricity bill off for another fortnight and it just goes on and on.”

Mr Windus said he needs to pay between $30 and $50 a month for internet access to aid his job search, and his phone service drops in and out according to what he can afford.

“Everything’s going backwards, so I can’t see any way out of it basically, unless some bloke walks up to me [with a job],” Mr Windus said.

Advocacy groups are calling on the Government to use the so-called budget standard measurements to set welfare payments in the future.

Cassandra Goldie, from the Australian Council of Social Service, said the research confirmed the Newstart allowance was grossly inadequate.

“In a country like Australia where we are overall one of the most wealthy countries in the world, none of us should accept that we cannot afford a social security safety net.”


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