23 February 2021

ACTCOSS questions JobSeeker rise: "What changed that it is now OK for people to live below the poverty line?"

| Dominic Giannini
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Dr Emma Campbell

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell has called for a greater increase to the unemployment payment. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

More than 12,000 Canberrans will receive a $25 weekly increase in their unemployment payment once the coronavirus supplement tapers off in March.

The JobSeeker payment will be increased to $44 a day, or $615 a fortnight, up from the base rate of $565.

The increase to the base rate, which was effectively doubled through the supplement at the start of the pandemic, is not enough to lift Canberrans out of poverty, ACT Council of Social Services CEO Dr Emma Campbell told Region Media.

“I do not understand that during COVID it was acceptable to give people more support to keep their head above the water; what changed that it is now OK for people to live below the poverty line?” she asked.

“It does not make economic sense. We know that businesses are still struggling in the ACT and when you give people on low income more money, they spend it straight away on things they need like fresh food and clothes for their kids.

“That money goes straight into the hands of local business.”

Dr Campbell said that the rate needed to increase to $65 a day – or $910 a fortnight – at a minimum.

“Even at the current rate of $51 a day, people are struggling to put food on the table, pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads,” she said.

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The amount of money a person can earn before their payments begin to reduce will also be increased by $150 a fortnight.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also been a vocal opponent to lowering the JobSeeker rate back to its pre-COVID-19 levels, continually pointing to an Australian National University study that found increased social security payments during the pandemic had reduced poverty and housing stress.

“The ACT Government is urging the Federal government to go beyond what has been announced [on Tuesday] and further raise the rate each year to push the JobSeeker rate above the poverty line,” Mr Barr said.

“Low levels of social security payments are the major cause of poverty for unemployed people and people on Youth Allowance and related payments, not just in Canberra but across Australia.

“Governments at all levels have a role to play in supporting people facing poverty, but the Commonwealth Government has by far the greatest capacity to permanently address this issue.”

Mr Barr has previously ruled out the ACT Government stepping in to supplement some of the unemployment payments, saying the Territory was not in a position to enact such a measure.

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It’s a payment to assist with living expenses to while they find a job, and they also can earn more money before it reduces. It should never be an amount where people can live on comfortably, otherwise why would you bother getting a job? The amount will likely never be seen as “enough” by certain groups.

Unemployment benefits are not supposed to be a lifestyle choice. It is supposed to be assistance while you find another job. The idea that this should be a living wage is ridiculous, and does nothing to encourage people who actually are bludging to go out and work.

Whilst the Jobseeker rate definitely needed to be increased advocates would do well to quit with the ridiculous ambit claims and hyperbole.

When you use a relative poverty line rather than an objective one, a significant amount of the population are always going to be living in “poverty”.

Jobseeker is exactly that, a payment meant to assist you in finding a job. It is not designed for you to be able to live on comfortably forever.

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