Unions, advocates call for Newstart increase

May 17, 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) held a rally in Sydney on May 9 to demand that the federal budget raise the Newstart allowance by $50 a week.

They also demanded all commonwealth benefits be properly indexed so they are in line with living expenses.

About 100 people attended the rally with representatives from the Community and Public Sector Union, Australian Services Union, the Salvation Army and tenant advocates.

The rally heard from several speakers including Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of ACOSS, who met with the assistant treasurer David Bradbury earlier. She spoke about individuals experiencing crushing poverty due to the inadequate support that Newstart offers.

She spoke about the case of a highly skilled man in his 50s who over the past two years applied for 500 jobs, was granted three interviews and is now living on a balcony in a tent paying $60 a week rent.

A speaker from the Welfare Rights Network said the low rate of Newstart has been condemned internationally and that the majority of people on the payment do not fit the stereotype of lazy surfers in Byron. They include parents, carers and people with a disability who are making an effort to find work.

Gary Moore, the CEO of Homelessness NSW, told the rally there are now 28,000 homeless people in NSW and twice that number are at risk of becoming homeless, most of which are in the private rental market.

He argued that an increase in Newstart should be seen as a social investment which would increase people’s dignity and ability to find work but also as an economic investment in the long run as it would lead to savings in emergency department, prison and mental health costs to name a few examples.

Teresa Corbin, the CEO of Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, pointed out that many low-income people are disadvantaged by having to pay the highest rates for mobile phones as this is what their financial situation allows. Many forgo food and electricity in order to keep a mobile phone account which they feel is essential for them to participate in society as well as to look for work.

Feminist Eva Cox said that not enough jobs are available for those looking for work. About 600,000 people are looking for work but there are only 150,000 jobs at any one time.

It has been proven that starving people into work is ineffective. The best way to help people get work is to provide them with enough money so they can afford the things they need for work, including clothes, bus fares, phones and haircuts.

Cox also pointed out that asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas are eligible for a government allowance that is only 88% the amount of Newstart. This also condemns them to poverty and forces them to rely on charity to survive.

Charmaine Jones, a public housing tenant and tenant advocate who lives in Redfern, spoke about difficulties for single parents who have been forced off the single parent benefit onto the lower Newstart allowance.

Many are now relying on the Salvation Army food bus for meals, using candles in their flats due to their power being cut off, stopped taking medication due to its cost and are losing their social networks as they can no longer afford to go out with friends.

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