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JobSeeker needs to provide a reasonable safety net

  • 04 March 2021
It took a recession, invoked by a 2020 devastated by the COVID pandemic, to see the Federal Government intervene and provide welfare that brought unemployed folk in Australia above the poverty line*.

Government interventions at state and federal levels have been critical in staving off destitution for many over the past months, but while the pandemic continues, federal supports are tapering off. I don’t think it is biased to say that Victoria’s economic situation is particularly important to take into account, given the Melbourne lockdown and its ongoing ramifications. Many people are still doing it tough. And the many organisations who are tasked with trying to support them share a sense of dismay as we see Federal Government assistance being wound back fast, although the number of people receiving an unemployment related benefit are more than double that of pre-pandemic Australia. We need to increase decent work opportunities and ensure a reasonable safety net for those out of work if we want to get through this and still claim the ‘fair go’.

In April 2020 the government recognised the need and created a supplement for those on JobSeeker worth $550 a fortnight on top of their pre-existing payment (to total something like $1167 per fortnight). What a relief for many who had been impossibly tasked for so long to somehow make rent, bills, medication and sustenance all come out of the old Newstart payment. This supplement has been reduced over time and will finish up next month, and a permanent increase to the base allowance has now been announced, something that many individuals and organisations have asked after and lobbied for many years. The unfortunate news is that the permanent increase has been set at $3.57 per day above the old, pre-COVID Newstart payment.

This has rightly seen a shocked and dismayed response from individuals who receive the payment, organisations who work to represent people who are on this payment, and the organisations that often provide services to people in receipt of this payment. We know how hard it is for someone to live on this amount of money in Australia. A lot of work, time and energy has gone into demonstrating the need for a substantial raise to the JobSeeker safety net, and this result is a kick in the teeth to those efforts. It is also a case of the Government not listening to its own Senate Committees — a key theme