Time to raise Newstart and reduce poverty in our community

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA 18 July 2019
Centrelink 2 Woden George Tsotsos

Raising the Newstart allowance is more critical than ever. Photo: George Tsotsos.

All through this week, you may have noticed media attention around the campaign to raise the level of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments by $75/week. These are some of the lowest payments that the Government provides, and are received by people who are unemployed or studying.

While recent decisions have seen tax cuts and changes to deeming rates, the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and other associated payments have remained dismally low.

It is sobering to realise that these payments haven’t been raised in real terms for over 25 years. With significant increases in living costs across the board, these payments are now well below the poverty line.

This week there is a big push to raise the issue in Parliament House, and today (Thursday), community advocates and those with lived experience of living on Newstart are descending on Parliament House to tell their stories and plead for Parliament to do something to fix this problem urgently.

They will share their experiences which demonstrate that while you might able to just get by on these meagre payments for a week or two, there is no way that people can do so for any longer.

And while it’s absolutely true that the best way out of poverty is a job, we need to face the reality that there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one.

The impact of having to survive on these payments is particularly tough in a city like Canberra, with its high rents, extreme weather leading to high utility costs and high costs of transport and health care. This is not a small problem in our local community – here in the ACT, there are over 10,000 people trying to live on Newstart, Youth Allowance and other related payments.

The calls to raise these payments have been loud, long and involved a range of unlikely partners, including community groups such as ACOSS and ACTCOSS, the Business Council of Australia and unions. Business leaders in our city, such as Stephen Byron from the Canberra Airport, and the ACT Government have backed the call for a $75/week increase to these payments.

There is widespread agreement that keeping the payment so long does nothing for productivity and often traps people in unemployment. On $40 a day people struggle to keep a roof over their head, food on the table and pay utility bills. Forget about the internet access you need to apply for jobs, the hair cut you need to look presentable at a job interview or the transport to actually get to the job interview.

There is strong evidence to suggest that raising Newstart will actually stimulate the economy. After all, when people on the lowest incomes see a small increase in their income, they are more likely to spend it on essentials including housing, food, utilities and medical items. This, complemented with the horror stories of what it is like to live on Newstart make it difficult to understand the logic behind the refusal to increase it.

As well as wrecking people’s lives, continuing to expect people to live in poverty actually costs us as a local community. If we don’t want to see people starve or remain homeless, we will need to support community services, churches and volunteers who provide services such as free food, financial support, accommodation services and access to other essential services.

This campaign is inviting everyone to get involved. It will be more powerful if people from across the community lend their voice and their support.

One thing you can do is pledge to meet your MP or senator via the Raise the Rate website. In doing this, you will be joining people across the county asking for our politicians to do something and raise the rate of this payment. You can find out more by clicking here.

I think it is important we come together as a community to demand support for people doing it tough through an increase to the rates of Newstart, Youth Allowance and other payments. What do you think needs to be done to ensure people are not trapped in poverty?

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