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Keep JobSeeker rate up to avert poverty plunge: Dr Freier

Archbishop urges Federal Government not to reduce JobSeeker rate after 25 September

By Mark Brolly

September 17 2020

Archbishop Philip Freier has urged the Federal Government to reverse its decision to cut the JobSeeker payment by $300 a fortnight from 25 September, warning that the decision would plunge people into poverty - including more than one million children.

Dr Freier, who is also Chair of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said in a video released on 16 September that the Government should be commended for the swift and decisive action it took to support Australians when the crisis broke six months ago.

But he said that as long as the crisis continued, Australians needed the Government to continue to focus its resources on providing the support and stimulus needed.

Many lives had been lost, with people often dying alone and isolated and their families and friends continuing to grieve.

"So too have many livelihoods been lost," Archbishop Freier said. "The unemployment data shows that there are now more than a million Australians unemployed. And that number is expected to grow over the coming months. In fact, some forecasts suggest it will almost double by next year. Across NSW and Victoria, there is now only one job available for every 10 people unemployed. 

"The Government should be commended for the swift and decisive action it took to support Australians when the crisis broke. This includes introducing JobKeeper, as well as the coronavirus supplement to JobSeeker, which effectively doubled the payment to the unemployed. These actions have saved millions of Australians from severe hardship and poverty.

"But that is soon about to come to an end. The issue is, the crisis has not ended. What will happen to the 1.4 million people these programs support when they end?

"The picture is grim. 

"As long as the crisis continues, Australians need the Federal Government to continue to focus its resources on providing the support and stimulus needed."

Archbishop Freier said the choices governments at all levels made now would have consequences for communities for years to come. If the government stimulus that was needed was pulled back, recovery would not only be delayed but made much harder. 

"This crisis has destroyed so much but, as we look forward, we can choose how we rebuild; we can consider what kind of society we want," he said. "And I believe part of that is keeping a strong safety net in place to catch us when we fall on hard times, and to help us back on our feet. 

"That means we need a strong social security system, including income support when we find ourselves out of a job. Falling out of work shouldn’t mean falling into poverty. 

"With the coronavirus supplement, the Federal Government effectively doubled the JobSeeker support payment to help those hit by unemployment. But soon, from 25 September, the Government is planning to cut the Supplement by $300 a fortnight, with no certainty of the rate beyond the end of the year. If we go back to the payment before the pandemic, that will be only about $40 a day - way below the poverty line and not enough to cover even life's basics like rent, food and medicine. And more Australians are at risk of this calamity than at any time since the Great Depression.

"The cuts to the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement will plunge people into poverty…. including more than a million children. 

"There must be a permanent increase so that people can live with dignity. We all want security for the future." 

Dr Freier said there was "a large and growing chorus of voices calling on the Federal Government to ensure JobSeeker is above the poverty line, now and into the future". 

He suggested people could write to their Federal MP, share the issue with friends and family and invite them to act and visits the websites of the Brotherhood, Anglicare or just Google "Raise the Rate" to find numerous organisations through which their voices could be heard. 

"One thing this coronavirus crisis has shown us is that we are all connected … and we are all vulnerable. If we can rebuild a society and an economy that gives financial security to everyone, we can take a huge step to eliminating poverty.

"We all want an Australia that is fair and just – and plunging one million children into poverty is hardly that. Now is the time to call for the changes needed to help us achieve that vision. 

"Let’s #Raise the Rate for Good." 

The Brotherhood and Anglicare are among many individuals and organisations campaigning to fix Australia's social security safety net for good through the #RaisetheRateforGood hashtag so that people are kept out of poverty, with income of $500 per week. The poverty line in Australia is defined as $480-$500 per week for a single person with no children, including housing costs. The old Newstart allowance, replaced by JobSeeker and the coronavirus supplement in March this year, was $40 a day.

On 2 September, Anglicare Australia said the Inequality in Australia report, released by the Australian Council of Social Service that day, showed that cutting JobSeeker would worsen inequality. Anglicare Australia was a partner in the report.

Anglicare Australia's Executive Director, Ms Kasy Chambers, said: “This report should shock all Australians. We are a rich country, yet the wealth gap is getting bigger and bigger.

“Worse still, people on the lowest incomes have almost no savings or assets to weather a crisis. With no savings to draw on, and with JobSeeker set to be cut in September, they are now facing that crisis."

The previous day, Anglicare Australia had released a mid-year update to its Rental Affordability Snapshot of almost 77,000 rental listings across Australia in August. It found that affordability for people on low incomes had deteriorated since March and called on the Government to raise the rate of welfare payments for good.