Labor backs down on JobSeeker rise, refuses to end poverty

April 13, 2022
Photo: Fernando M Gonçalves/Anti-Poverty Network SA

Shadow Assistant Treasury Minister Andrew Leigh confirmed on April 12 that Labor will not commit to raising the JobSeeker payment of $44 a day, backing down on a promise the party made in 2019 to review it.

He told the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) that “We haven’t committed to an additional increase” and said Labor’s plan to build 30,000 “social” and “affordable” homes is an alternative to raising the payment.

ACOSS chief executive officer Cassandra Goldie criticised Labor’s decision, saying the lack of income support is a “key cause of poverty that’s being experienced, including among … single parents, older women [and] people with a disability”.

The JobSeeker payment is $642.70 a fortnight, about $46 a day, for a single person without children. The Henderson Poverty Line is $88 a day. The cost of living is rising rapidly and, with soaring rentals, shows that Labor’s “small target” strategy is a slap in the face for those struggling to get by.

ACOSS said on April 13: “JobSeeker must not be treated as a political football. It’s unacceptable they appear to be caught up in a scare campaign on budget deficits. You can’t claim to care about cost of living without addressing JobSeeker which isn’t enough to cover the basics.”

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union said on Twitter that Labor’s welfare policy is now “worse than the one it took to the 2019 election”. GetUp said Labor’s decision is “very disappointing”.

The Anti Poverty Network South Australia said it is a “failure of decency and courage”. It pointed to polls showing widespread support for raising the rate. An Ipsos poll showed 65–74% support JobSeeker being raised above the poverty line and an Essential poll showed 84% support the payment being high enough to cover living costs.

The temporary rise to welfare payments during the COVID-19 lockdowns over 2020–21 showed how simple it is to lift more than a million people out of poverty. For many people, the COVID-19 supplement was the first time they could afford to meet everyday costs.

The Australian Greens propose raising all welfare payments, including JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, the Disability Support Pension, to $88 a day.

The Socialist Alliance says all welfare payments must be above the poverty line. Both are calling for an end to punitive income management and means testing. Socialist Alliance New South Wales Senate candidate Paula Sanchez said if companies pay their fair share of tax, we could “eliminate poverty and deliver at least $88 a day to people who need support”.

Meanwhile, Labor leader Anthony Albanese did not appear to know the unemployment rate. Nor was he able to talk about how Labor intends to deal with unemployment and underemployment — the latter being particularly important as Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) employment figures count someone who works one hour a week as “employed”.

Alison Pennington, senior economist at the Centre for Future Work, said on Twitter: “ABS will release new unemployment data in 2 days. The rate will likely change. What won’t change? Long-term drivers behind insecure work & low pay. Or barriers to participation … Australians are sick of being told all’s hunky dory coz unemployment rate is X.”

Keeping hundreds of thousands of people out of work is intentional policy that Labor and the Coalition support because it suppresses wages and inflation. There are not enough jobs by design.

Workers are facing rising casualisation, zero-hour contracts and hard-fought-for agreements for better pay and conditions are being eroded. A rise in the JobSeeker rate and other support payments would provide an important safety net while they look for work.

Labor’s JobSeeker policy shows it has discarded the most vulnerable section of the working class.

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