Australia's welfare safety net is a myth
I believe most Australians assume that if they were suddenly unable to work, then they would be provided with adequate support by the state until their circumstances changed.
The welfare safety net was introduced in most economically developed countries after World War 2 to support those doing it most tough. Today recipients of welfare are still the most vulnerable - the unemployed, the sick and the elderly.
Of course, adequate support does not include luxury family holidays. But, most presume, it would be enough to get by, to have a reasonable existence, to give people support while they get back on their feet and to offer opportunities for education and training to current and future generations.
However, for the more than 750,000 Australians who are on Newstart, that assumption is far from reality. Newstart was originally intended as a stop-gap for (mainly young) jobseekers. But over time we have seen increasing numbers of middle-aged jobseekers and the long-term sick being placed on it. People, who despite all their efforts, have not been able to get a job. We fear many of those are being forced to survive on Newstart over the long term, an inadequate benefit which currently pays recipients $264 a week.
And to make matters worse the Government is actually trying to reduce the payment by $5 for new recipients.
This week, five of Australia’s leading community service organisations, including Mission Australia joined with ACOSS to call on Federal Parliament to reject the proposed cuts to Newstart by the Federal Government.
For years Mission Australia has been lobbying the government about the inadequacy of Newstart and these changes, rather than being beneficial, are heading absolutely in the wrong direction.
As an organisation that supports the most vulnerable, we know that people on Newstart are already struggling to make ends meet, with exorbitant rents and rising cost of living, many of them are already on the verge of homelessness.
Imagine living on $264 a week. Even factoring in a very cheap rent (which in most towns and cities is a struggle to find) and the most basic shopping bill, it doesn't leave much money to travel for job interviews, hospital appointments, or for social interaction which are the basis for positive wellbeing.
For a myriad of reasons - redundancy, illness, any of the events life can and will throw at us - people need the support of a welfare system. And they are being grossly let down.
We need a fair and equitable Australia. And that needs to start with a fair welfare support system. We need to identify a level of base payment and indexation to ensure adequacy and to enable people to support themselves to get back into work, if that is possible, and if not ensure that they have enough income to live a life with dignity.
As a society we know that those on the lowest incomes should not be asked to shoulder the burden of budget repair. We must continue to hold the Federal government to the fairness test.
CEO Mission Australia