'A slap in the face': JobSeekers concerned about payment decrease

JobSeeker recipient Suzanne Donko. Picture: Keegan Carroll
JobSeeker recipient Suzanne Donko. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Welfare recipients and advocacy groups are concerned Australians will be plunged into poverty despite a $50 per fortnight increase to JobSeeker.

Suzanne Donko said the changes announced by the federal government on Tuesday were a "slap in the face" to recipients such as herself.

Ms Donko said she was forced to skip meals when she was moved from a carer's allowance to the $40-per-day Newstart payment.

But Ms Donko said that when she was put on the rebadged JobSeeker payment, and started receiving the $550 coronavirus supplement at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, her quality of life dramatically improved.

"[I had] no fear about not having food in the house. No fear about not having enough money to pay for utilities or getting things fixed," she said.

"My stress and mental health issues decreased to a point where I had hope as far as a future with work and getting ahead. I got hope.

"When [JobSeeker] goes down again it's going to be a nightmare."

The coronavirus supplement has since been cut back to $150, meaning a single adult with no children on JobSeeker will receive $715 a fortnight until the emergency support winds up at the end of March.

The new permanent rate announced on Tuesday is $615 per fortnight, higher than the old Newstart payment but still $100 below the current level.

Ms Donko said low unemployment payments did not support the material needs of people looking for work, such as work-appropriate clothes and transport costs.

"I'm lucky I've got a car, other people don't so they have to rely on public transport to get themselves around.

"I don't want to live on the dole, I want a job but it's impossible to prepare myself to get work or even to have petrol to turn up to an interview," she said

"I find it to be a really cruel system. I don't want to be a bludger. The majority of us - we don't want to bludge off the system."

The ACT Council of Social Service chief executive Dr Emma Campbell said the changes were a "heartless betrayal of people with the least".

Dr Campbell said stricter mutual obligation requirements, which were also announced on Tuesday, would "make life even tougher for people looking for work without improving their job prospects".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed back against criticism of the size of the increase to the permanent JobSeeker rate, while Employment Minister Michaelia Cash reiterated the government's belief that "the best form of welfare is a job".

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting chief executive Jenny Lambert said the government had "got the balance about right" with the $50 per fortnight increase to JobSeeker.

However, Ms Lambert said the peak business group had hoped the $150 coronavirus supplement would be retained for the long-term unemployed.

The Salvation Army said a $250 per fortnight increase was "the absolute minimum needed to allow Australians to live with frugal dignity".

"A permanent increase of $25 a week does not even begin to address the depths of disadvantage in Australia," it said.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union have launched a campaign to push the payment to $80 a day.

AUWU spokesperson Kristin O'Connell said poverty was a choice the government made.

"The government showed last year that they can lift millions out of poverty overnight, and they can easily do the same now," she said.

"Our welfare system kills people. An unemployment payment that's less than the poverty line of $80 per day is immoral."

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This story 'A slap in the face': JobSeekers concerned about payment decrease first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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