Under significant pressure Labor is signalling it will raise the rate of the JobSeeker payment in the federal budget — but only for those aged over 55.
The government has been refusing to commit to raise the rate of welfare payment despite widespread calls, including from within its own ranks. At least 17 federal Labor MPs have called for an increase to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other payments.
More than 1200 advocates and politicians, including eight Labor MPs and several former Labor MPs, have added their names to an Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) open letter calling on the Prime Minister to raise income support in the budget.
Labor’s rumored decision to only commit to raising the rate for over 55s has been described as “shameful”. The Antipoverty Centre (TAC) said the proposal only worsens the welfare system’s “age discrimination”, with students under 25 on Youth Allowance already receiving less than those on JobSeeker. Those people over 60 on JobSeeker already receive a higher rate.
Indeed, the fastest-growing demographic on JobSeeker is women over 60 and women over 55 are the fastest-growing growing demographic of homeless people.
However, TAC pointed out that “684,360 people who rely on an unemployment payment are under 55”. It said neither rent, groceries, electricity, phone bills or fuel are cheaper for under 55s. “Rather than caring for everyone who needs support, politicians have cynically calculated that helping those over 55 will win them more votes.”
The Older Women’s Network New South Wales said it would not “cheer even if payments are increased for older women because (i) it will still be below the poverty line (ii) EVERYONE who is on JobSeeker deserves to be supported to LIVE, not just scrape to get by”.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) said on May 2 the proposal is “bafflingly cruel”. Labor’s own economic inclusion advisory committee recommended raising JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other payments as a “top priority”.
“Instead of providing support to everyone who needs it, the government appears set on arbitrarily deciding that a certain cohort on welfare deserves (slightly) less starvation than others,” the AUWU said.
“It seems clear that government is trying to quash the momentum of the #RaiseTheRate campaign, by offering a token increase to people it deems ‘deserving’.”
The Interim Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s 2023–24 Report to the Australian Government confirmed that the rate of welfare payments is so low it is now a barrier to people trying to find work. It said the payments are inadequate and should be raised to at least 90% of the Age Pension.
“All indicators available to the Committee show current rates of these payments are seriously inadequate, whether measured relative to the National Minimum Wage, in comparison with pensions, or against a range of income poverty measures,” the report found.
“People on these payments face the highest levels of financial stress in Australia. Committee members heard from people who live on income support having to choose between paying for their medicine or electricity bills.
“The Committee recommends the Government, as a first priority, commit to a substantial increase in the base rates of the JobSeeker Payment and related working age payments.
“Income support should better value unpaid caring work and support those who cannot be in full-time paid employment, including due to illness, disability or partial capacity to participate.”
JobSeeker is currently $693.10 a fortnight for a single person with no children — far below the Henderson Poverty Line of $1221.20 a fortnight.
Chalmers acknowledges it is “tough” to live on JobSeeker and then, like so many former treasurers, implies it is the individual’s fault for not finding work. “A high priority of this government is job security and job creation and wages growth and we want to see more people grab those opportunities,” he said.
Even before the cost-of-living and housing crises, calls to urgently raise payments have been made for years. A new report by Anglicare Australia found that only four properties across the country were affordable for a person on JobSeeker.
TAC spokesperson Kristin O’Connell told a protest outside Albanese’s electorate office in Marrickville on April 28 that raising the rate is not only necessary, but popular: polls show more than half support raising payments.
Labor’s economic inclusion committee also recommended extending the single-parenting payment to when the minor becomes 16, rather than eight — a “reform” by former PM Julia Gillard which has been blamed for increasing child poverty.