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Budget fails the unemployed, say agencies

The Federal Budget has failed to increase Newstart, leading to criticism from Anglicare and the Brotherhood of St Laurence

"Fixing Newstart is a moral challenge for our democracy," says the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Ms Conny Lenneberg.

By Stephen Cauchi

May 10 2018The Federal Budget has failed to increase Newstart, Australia’s “utterly inadequate” unemployment allowance of under $40 per day, leading to strong condemnation from Anglicare and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Anglicare also criticised the lack of action on affordable housing, while further cuts to religious broadcasting may be on the cards after the ABC’s funding was slashed by $84 million.

Australia’s foreign aid budget was also frozen and is now at its lowest level ever, leading to criticism from Anglican Overseas Aid.

The decision to extend the freeze on Newstart was met with criticism from voices across the political spectrum, including former Prime Minister John Howard and the Business Council of Australia.

BSL executive director Conny Lenneberg said that Newstart recipients were Australia’s “long-forgotton people”.

“The Brotherhood remains deeply concerned about Australia’s fraying social safety net,” she said.

“The very low rate of the Newstart Allowance acts as a barrier to people securing work.”

Ms Lenneberg said that Australia’s unemployment benefit was “far too low” given the Australian economy had enjoyed 25 years of economic growth.

“Newstart is so utterly inadequate - as little as $38.98 a day - that many people on the payment can’t afford to properly conduct their job search,” said Ms Lenneberg. “They are struggling to cover the basics of life. The truth is that there are costs involved in looking for work: maintaining a mobile phone, paying for transport and having presentable clothing to attend interviews.”

Ms Lenneberg said that many vulnerable people on Newstart were forced into homelessness because housing costs were so high.

“How can you properly look for a job when you can't even afford to keep a roof over your head?”

She urged both parties to fix Newstart in the next election.

“Fixing Newstart is a moral challenge for our democracy. It is not fair to consign people searching for work to poverty amid such a run of economic prosperity.  It is not only welfare groups, but economists and business who are calling for an urgent increase in Newstart. We must share the pie.”

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the Budget had “squibbed the chance to take action” on Newstart.

“This Budget has continued to freeze income support at dangerously low levels. It has missed the chance to act on the business and community sectors’ calls to increase payments as a matter of urgency.

“Now is the time to create an independent commission to set income support payments – that’s the fairest way to answer the community’s call for decent income support.”

Ms Chambers said the low level of Newstart payments had become a “poverty trap”. “They’re so low that paying rent means you can’t then afford to buy food, clothing, transport or go to the doctor. That cycle is locking people out of work.”

The Budget had also taken “no action on affordable housing”. A single person on Newstart was unable to afford private rental accommodation and pensioners, single parents and those working full-time on the minimum wage “didn’t fare much better”, she said.

“The Government is not listening to the community on housing affordability. We must keep the pressure up.”

“What we needed was an urgent investment in affordable rentals for people in need – and a fairer tax system to make housing more affordable. These calls are still unanswered.”

 

Ms Chambers did note some bright spots in the Budget, including action to help the 100,000 people waiting for an aged care package.

“The creation of 14,000 new home care places will offer some very welcome relief to a sector that is under pressure, and for some of the people in these interminable lists.”

She also added that people on low incomes would welcome tax relief.

Ms Lenneberg said that BSL also noted some bright spots in the budget, including the “highly successful” Transition to Work program which prepares young people for jobs in their communities.

“I am also pleased to see funding for the Brotherhood to establish a Youth Employment Body to help young people into work with new approaches informed by research and, importantly, harnessing employer effort.”

She said older Australians were also hit hard by unemployment and measures in the Budget would help respond to challenges mature-aged job seekers faced.

The Government also announced it would freeze the ABC's annual funding indexation for three years from July 2019, costing the organisation $84 million.

ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie said the $84 million cut would be compounded by a decision to cut $43 million in funding for news and current affairs.

"I am very disappointed and concerned that after the measures we have introduced in recent years to deliver better and more efficient services, the Government has now seen fit to deliver what amounts to a further substantial budget cut," Ms Guthrie said in a statement to ABC staff.

She said the decision would make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.

In 2017 Australian Christian leaders slam­med the ABC for “systematic dismantling” of religious programming following the axing of the religion editor position.

The Budget also froze Australia’s overseas aid budget at $4.2 billion per year, with indexation not to recommence for another four years.

At 0.23 per cent of gross national income, Australian overseas aid is now at its lowest level ever, half of what it was in 1974-75.

The chief executive of Anglican Overseas Aid, the Reverend Dr Bob Mitchell, said the overseas aid budget was “disappointing”, “mean-spirited” and “hardly-inspiring”.

“Australians are generous people, and the federal government’s response of freezing aid at rock bottom levels does not reflect the aspirations of many Australian who seek a more compassionate and just world,” he said.

The UK had legislated for 0.7 per cent of its income to go to foreign aid, while New Zealand had announced an increase of $700 million, he said.