A group of 100 prominent Australians has signed a letter calling for the introduction of a liveable income guarantee – or basic income – as COVID-19 lays waste to many sectors of the economy.
The letter has been signed by prominent economic, social and public policy experts, unionists, consultants, writers, business people and religious leaders, and is addressed to the Commonwealth Government and National Cabinet.
Former ACT Greens candidate Tim Hollo, who is the Executive Director of the Green Institute and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s RegNet, coordinated the letter.
“I think one of the critical things is that at a time of extraordinary crisis things become possible that nobody thought possible – indeed they start to become obvious,” he said. “That applies to a whole range of ideas – like banning evictions, wage subsidies, doubling the jobseeker allowance – that were thought not to be politically possible.
“There will be extraordinary numbers of people who can’t take part in the labour force for an extended period of time. That dramatically shifts the conversation away from the role of the welfare system in driving people back into the workforce and towards the role of government in taking care of people.
“It changes the whole dynamic. We are not there quite yet but I think we will get there.”
The letter says that the COVID-19 crisis has triggered an unprecedented situation where millions of Australians are likely to find themselves suddenly not only unemployed but unable to be employed during the vital period of physical distancing.
“Many more are finding their precarious situation even more precarious, and most are in more demanding caring positions,” the letter says.
“As the long and dangerous queues at Centrelink offices and the unmanageable demand on the MyGov website demonstrate, the current approach, even with these important shifts, is insufficient in the face of the economic crisis we are entering.
“With economists forecasting official unemployment rates of 10 to 15 per cent in the near future, and many more in the informal economy in dire straits, there is a clear and urgent need to introduce a Liveable Income Guarantee without delay to make vital support easily accessible to all in need.”
The signatories are calling on the government to:
- Remove conditionality requirements to make access to the Jobseeker Payment and related payments, including coronavirus supplement, administratively fast and simple
- Remove all mutual obligation requirements, which will be both impossible to comply with and impossible to manage
- Unify all payments, including the Aged Pension, Disability Support Pension, Youth Allowance, etc, at the same full Liveable Income Guarantee rate of the Jobseeker Allowance plus coronavirus supplement (without prejudicing any additional payments such as Disability Support Pension, Rent Assistance or the Remote Area Allowance), and
- Introduce these measures with immediate effect.
The signatories acknowledge that a Liveable Income Guarantee alone will not be sufficient to meet need.
“In particular, we call for measures to ensure stable housing for all, including suspension of mortgage and rent payments, a freeze on repossession and evictions, and provision of accommodation for the homeless. We also call for a suspension of utility bills, including internet service provision and telephony. We call for a suspension of the cashless welfare card,” they said.
While there has been no response yet from government to the open letter, Tim Hollo says that he’s been delighted to see a strong reaction from economic and social policy leaders.
“Lots of people who were sceptical are really starting to think seriously about the advantages of an approach like this.
“We’re seeing tremendous numbers of people who will have caring responsibilities [but] who cannot automatically participate in the economy. That shifts the idea of what our role is participating in, and contributing to, society.
“We are not being paid to teach our kids, for example, but we should be supporting people to take on that role and supporting us all to stay at home. Income guarantees incentivise staying at home. We say that, as a society, we will take care of you.”