The millions of Australians receiving JobSeeker payments may be what tips the scales in the next Federal Election, a social services group has said.
At least 52 federal electorates are held by margins that are fewer than the number of people being supported by the soon-to-be-cut Coronavirus Supplement, according to new analysis by the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre, commissioned by the Australian Council of Social Security (ACOSS).
The Supplement is due to wind down completely on 31 March and won’t be extended again.
After months of lobbying, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $50-a-fortnight increase to JobSeeker’s base rate, with Parliament to vote this week on the legislation.
ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie indicated that the JobSeeker rate could become a central issue for voters affected by the payment cut.
“Parliamentarians preparing to vote for this bill need to be aware of the reality in their electorates, and that this is the single most important issue in the lives of people directly affected,” she said.
“The analysis shows that at least 52 Federal seats are held by margins that are less than the number of people who will see their incomes cut at the end of March.”
When it was introduced, the Coronavirus Supplement effectively doubled the current JobSeeker rate of $565.70.
The UNSW research reveals that more than 325,000 single mothers on JobSeeker will see their income support drop once the $150-a-fortnight boost disappears at the end of March.
Goldie said that the supplement had allowed mothers and children to cover basics such as toiletries, medical needs, and winter clothes.
“The Parliament must not turn its back on the millions of people who right now don’t know if they can pay their rent, put food on the table or pay the next electricity bill.”
ACOSS is calling for the JobSeeker bill to be amended to increase by “at least $65 a day”, which it argues would lift the base rate to above the poverty line.
McKell Institute CEO Michael Buckland described JobSeeker as a “sleeper issue” that had the potential to decide elections.
“The withdrawal of JobSeeker from those who need it is a huge potential sleeper issue,” he told Yahoo Finance.
COVID-19 forced millions of Australians to turn to government support through no fault of their own, with thousands of small businesses affected by the mandated closures, he pointed out.
Buckland warned that slashing the income support could hurt businesses, cost jobs, and impact household consumption, which makes up a major part of Australia’s GDP.
“Cutting JobSeeker too sharply will have a profound impact not just on the lives of people who rely on it, but on the economy.
“Elections are decided by increasingly small margins and this one will be no different.”
Australia Institute senior economist Matt Grudnoff also said that slashing JobSeeker would have negative flow-on effects for the economy.
“The unemployed often spend all their income just buying the essentials of life. Cutting Jobseeker means less spending in local communities, which means less employment than would have been the case without the cut.”
This, combined with the end of JobKeeper – which winds down on 28 March – could mean Australian business owners would have to let go of staff, he added.
“At the same time as JobSeeker drops, many more workers could find themselves unemployed.”