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Calls to lift Centrelink grow louder: ‘Not an election-losing policy’

·3-min read
Centrelink sign
Rising costs of living are hurting the vulnerable hardest. (Source: Getty)

Neither of the major parties has committed to boosting Centrelink JobSeeker payments despite evidence most voters actually support higher unemployment payments.

Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Kristin O’Connell said there was strong community support for “treating people with humanity” and upping the JobKeeper rate from $46 a day.

An Ipsos survey from November last year found in five key marginal Liberal-held seats, 65-74 per cent of participants supported lifting JobSeeker above the poverty line.

Another poll from May 2020 by Essential found 57 per cent of participants supported lifting JobSeeker to at least as high as the pension, which included 51 per cent of Coalition voters.

“This is just not an election-losing policy,” O’Connell told Yahoo Finance.

Several organisations, including the St Vincent de Paul Society and Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), have called on the major parties to increase the woeful welfare payment if elected.

“Right now, the punishingly low Jobseeker rate of $46 a day is forcing people to make heartbreaking decisions between paying their rent or buying food and medicine,” CEO of ACOSS Cassandra Goldie said.

Councils also support a boost to the payment, with the City of Greater Dandenong flagging an increase to JobSeeker to a liveable wage in an election advocacy document.

The Greens also called for a higher payment of $88 a day, bringing it closer in line with the minimum wage.

People on JobSeeker have no other choice

O’Connell said politicians were using the low unemployment rate as “one of the excuses to continue to brutalise people” by keeping JobSeeker payments below the poverty line.

Despite unemployment figures dropping to 4 per cent, O’Connell said the number of people on unemployment payments for a year or more had actually increased by 41 per cent since before the pandemic.

These people have a “really slim chance of getting back into the labour market”, she said.

Why? Because many JobSeeker recipients - as many as 250,000 - are over 55 years old and face age discrimination preventing them from getting a job, she said.

Another 250,000 recipients had disabilities, and were on the unemployment payment because O’Connell said it had become difficult to access the Disability Support Pension.

So, although there were plenty of vacancies in the job market, O’Connell said these jobs were rarely suitable for people on unemployment benefits.

“So, the idea that someone can just go out and get a job, even in the current labour market, is just so far from reality,” she said.

Cost of living hitting vulnerable people

Rising costs of living are also hurting the poorest in our communities hardest.

The Australia Institute’s Matt Grudnoff said one of the reasons welfare recipients were falling behind was because the payments were linked to the consumer price index (CPI) rather than wages.

O’Connell said even before the pandemic, eight out of 10 people on JobSeeker regularly skipped meals.

“So, the cost increases we've seen since then are just making it beyond impossible.”

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