Politics

The Government Doubled The Dole This Week, Now Welfare Groups Want A Permanent Increase

While the extra funding will essentially double dole payments for the next six months, it's only a temporary measure.

newstart

For years welfare groups have begged successive governments to increase the Newstart allowance, claiming it isn’t enough to live on.

This week they’ve been sadly vindicated, with the coronavirus pandemic shining a spotlight on how ineffective the current welfare system really is.

As tens of thousands — maybe millions — of Australians turned to Centrelink this week, the government announced they would essentially double the dole payments by introducing an extra supplement on top of the base rate.

It’s a move that has been welcomed — but with the supplement set to disappear after six months, groups are still pushing for a permanent increase.

Hate To Say I Told You So, But…

Over the last few days the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union has been smashed with panicked questions.

“We’ve even been hearing from people while they’re in line (at Centrelink) asking for advice,” said Jeremy Poxon, the AUWU spokesperson.

“It’s incredibly difficult and complicated at the best of times to understand what to do and what payments to access and what the eligibility requirements are, but when you’re in crisis ie, you’ve lost your job and dealing with a global health pandemic, that scales things up even further.”

This week has seen our welfare system tested in the worst way, with the MyGov website crashing after almost 100,000 people tried to access the site at once. Usually, it deals with around 6,000 people.

“Those of us who have been battling this system for some time before this were not surprised at all,” Jeremy said.

“At the very best of times, not in times of chaos, there’s legendary stories of how long people have to wait on the phone listening to groovy Centrelink hold music.

“On the best of days the system has been riddled with glitches, the website’s gone down, the Centrelink app is always incredibly faulty, so we kind of felt like the canaries in the coal mine a little bit. We were trying to warn them of the problem, saying this system can barely cater for the users already in it.

“The government had a months worth of warnings about COVID-19 and the impacts it would have on the economy, and still didn’t ensure a digital portal could accommodation more than 55,000 people at a time when we know from latest predictions that unemployment is going to rise about 10% at least, which equates to two million more unemployed people.”

Raise The Rate

But the issue isn’t just a system failure. The current economic crisis has also highlighted how insufficient the current welfare payments are, with the government having to introduce an extra coronavirus supplement to be paid on top of existing welfare allowances.

While the extra funding will essentially double dole payments for the next six months, it’s only a temporary measure.

Right now, people on Newstart (which was changed to the Jobseeker Payment last week) are entitled to a base rate of $565.70.

Earlier this month Scott Morrison announced a $750 cash bonus; this week he also announced an extra $550 a fortnight to be paid on top on their regular payment.

That move has been welcomed by groups like the Australian Council of Social Services, which started the Raise The Rate campaign.

That campaign has been trying to get the federal government to increase welfare for two years; they’ve pushed for an extra $95 a week for Youth Allowance, Jobseeker and other related payments, and for all allowances to be indexed to wages.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said Australia needs a social safety net that works for everyone at all times, regardless or whether they lost their job because of coronavirus or another reason.

“Whilst we would never choose the circumstances under which these events are occurring, now more than ever, today’s announcement is important recognition that our safety net needs to be safe for everyone who needs it,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

“We thank all of those on Newstart and Youth Allowance who have been sharing publicly how hard it is to get by on $40 a day. They demonstrated that the existing social safety net was broken.”

“Just as $40 a day is not enough for people who lose their jobs now because of this crisis, it’s not enough for those who will continue to struggle to find paid work once this crisis subsides.”

Newstart An “Unliveable” Amount

The Newstart payment has not had a legislated increase in more than 20 years, and is indexed against prices instead of wages.

Recently the push to increase it has gotten some steam amongst Labor, the Greens and even some Coalition members, but Scott Morrison emphatically ruled out an increase as recently as August.

“If the Labor party thinks it’s should be increased, well tell us how much, and how you’re going to pay for it,” he said at the time.

But Jeremy said the fact the government was so quick to introduce the supplement was a sign they knew the current rate was unliveable.

“This doubling is such a clear indication this government knew all along what we were trying to convince them of, that people can’t survive and live a remotely decent life on this payment,” he said.

“They managed to find enough money to do this now, they always gave the excuse they were being fiscally sensible and the budget couldn’t afford it.”

However, Jeremy also pointed out the government has tried to make it as easy as possible to remove the extra payment in six months by introducing the increase as a supplementary payment, and not by increasing the base rate.

“There will be a lot of noise and uproar if the government tries to take it away in six months,” he said.

“I think they’re in for a bit of a fight on that.”