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Hearing the unheard at Christmas

  • 21 December 2012

Last week Suzy Freeman-Greene wrote in The Age on the inadequacy of unemployment benefits:

A Senate committee investigating the matter received moving submissions on the dole's inadequacy but couldn't bring itself to recommend an increase. It's chairman, Liberal senator Chris Back, later told Age journalist Peter Martin there was a 'compelling' case for increasing Newstart. But it seems that since his party might be in government soon, he didn't want to make it.

It was disgraceful that the chair of this committee felt it wouldn't be right for the Opposition to support an increase to Newstart since they might have to pay for it if they got into government. It's also disgraceful that the current Government has so far refused to increase an unemployment benefit that has become so low that even the Business Council wants to see it increased as it has become a barrier to participation.

It is perverse to suggest that you can help someone get a job by forcing them into poverty.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is deeply worried about the new group of over 80,000 sole parents and their children who are going to be forced onto the clearly inadequate Newstart Allowance as of 1 January. Centrelink officers are already referring some of them to Vinnies and the Salvos because they know that a loss of around $100 a week could mean the difference between paying the rent and sleeping in a car.

The Government's response so far has been that they should just get jobs.

At Vinnies we are receiving letters and emails from many of these courageous women explaining how hard it is to find jobs that allow them to balance their caring responsibilities with employment.

It is time we turned our backs on the notion that social policy is best devised by those 'above' and imposed on those 'below'. It will take courage and leadership from both sides of politics to admit that this approach to disadvantage and inequality simply makes things worse.

It is time also to stop pathologising people and places, blaming them for their own exclusion and worrying more about the cost of providing adequate resources than about the long-term social and economic costs of keeping people in a state of exclusion.

In 2006 the then Prime Minister John