The federal government’s announcement of a $3.57-a-day permanent boost to the JobSeeker payment has been labelled “a heartless betrayal” of unemployed Australians and “exceptionally cruel” by their advocates.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday the some 1.2 million unemployed Australians on the JobSeeker payment would receive $50 a fortnight more when the $150 coronavirus supplement ends on 31 March.
It takes the post-March payment rate to $615.70 a fortnight, or around $44 a day, which had been boosted to $715.70, or around $51 a day, by the coronavirus supplement.
The move came after years of campaigning by welfare organisations, business groups and opposition politicians, but falls short of the rise many had been calling for.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said on Monday JobSeeker recipients were struggling to afford rent, food, medication and bills even with the coronavirus supplement.
Ms Goldie said Tuesday’s announcement was “a mean-spirited and complete betrayal” of what was really needed to lift vulnerable Australians out of poverty.
“The government has missed its opportunity to be a government that stood for human decency, to be a government that stood for human dignity, to be a government … that genuinely had people’s backs,” she told reporters.
“What we’ve got today represents a heartless betrayal of the millions of people who have been hit by unemployment.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said she was “devastated” by the “exceptionally cruel” boost.
“This is a really bad outcome for people living on JobSeeker … and it shows indifference to the fact that people are going to be living in poverty,” she told SBS News.
“Living in poverty, which is what these payments will mean, is a barrier in itself to trying to find work. It does not enable people to meet essential needs.”
An Anglicare survey in December found the old rate of JobSeeker was leaving some people with as little as $7 per day after paying rent.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union said Tuesday’s announcement was “unspeakably cruel” and called for unemployment payment to be raised to $80 a day.
Mr Morrison defended the size of the boost when questioned about it by reporters, saying “there will always be suggestions by some that it should be more”.
“That’s why a government has to exercise judgement in getting that balance right, not just in the setting of the payment, but also the conditions that sit around the provisions of that payment,” he said.
Mr Morrison said the boost was “the single-largest increase in the JobSeeker payment since the mid-80s, year-on-year”.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the measures announced on Tuesday were “clearly about getting the balance right”.
“We need a system that is fair and sustainable for the people who need it and the taxpayers who pay for it,” she said.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the JobSeeker boost was important but it needed to go hand-in-hand with more reform to better support unemployed people in finding meaningful jobs.
Senator Siewert also voiced concern about the impending strengthening of mutual obligation requirements, particularly the setting up of an “employer reporting line” enabling employers to directly contact the government about people who turn down job opportunities.
“If someone does apply for a job, they’re offered the job and they’re qualified for the job but they say no, the employer will now be able to contact my department and report that person as failing to accept suitable employment,” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said while announcing the scheme.
Senator Siewert said the mutual obligations system was already “a really bad process” and the new employer reporting line would make things worse for vulnerable people.
“Already job providers have a good deal of control over job seekers. They’re the ones that enforce the demerit point system, and now what we’re saying is that employers can ring a so-called line to report people and to dob them in,” she said.
“This adds insult to injury and is cruelty upon cruelty.”
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