Politics

The Government Is Sticking To Its Terrible Plan To Slash JobSeeker Payments Tomorrow

"The government is saying ‘no, we want to hurt poor people’."

Hope everyone has enjoyed these last few months living above the poverty line — because as of tomorrow, JobSeeker payments are being slashed.

Even as the country faces its biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, the government is stubbornly sticking to its plan to cut the coronavirus supplement by $300 a fortnight, a move that’s expected to reduce the incomes of about 2.3 million unemployed people, single parents, and students.

Economists have warned the government that cutting the payment will cost the economy $31 billion, force retailers to shed jobs, and disproportionately affect people living in already-disadvantaged areas… but that doesn’t appear to have bothered them at all.

Given our country’s penchant for stigmatising unemployed people it’s unsurprising it’s come to this, even during a recession which has cost thousands of people their jobs.

Kristin O’Connell, from the Unemployed Workers Union, told Junkee it’s clear the government doesn’t care about the impact the cuts will have.

“It just shows they actually hate poor people more than they love their donors,” she said.

“Because Deloitte is saying you have to retain the current rate, the Australian Retailers Association is saying you have to retain the rate, landlords are saying retain the rate, the people who make money are saying, ‘we’re going to stop making money, please make sure poor people keep spending money’. The government is saying ‘no, we want to hurt poor people’.

“The problem is they have to choose between two of their favourite things, and somehow they’re chosen the thing that’s going to take $31 billion out of the economy in the next two years. They’re going to create unemployment, cost the economy money, and give $160 billion in tax cuts at the same time. It’s ridiculous.”

Payments Slashed As Government Also Considers Tax Cut

The government has $160 billion in tax cuts for high-income earners scheduled for 2022, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has hinted they might bring those forward in the federal budget in October.

Meanwhile, from Friday they’re cutting the coronavirus supplement from $550 a fortnight to $250, and reintroducing the assets test which was waived at the start of the pandemic.  Also making a comeback are penalties for mutual obligations, which means from Monday people can have their payments cancelled if they don’t apply for for up to eight jobs a month.

Right now these jobs don’t exist — there’s around 15 job seekers for every job vacancy.

While there was sympathy for these people at the start of the pandemic, the cuts to the coronavirus supplement have coincided with increasingly hostile rhetoric.

Figures from last week showed unemployment technically fell last month (to 6.8 percent), but that is far from the whole picture. The data attributes this to a spike in the number of “non-employees” who work in the gig economy. The number of hours worked actually rose just 0.1 percent.

The number of underemployed people — workers who are looking for more hours — is also steady, at 11.2 percent.

So, while slashing the coronavirus supplement won’t magically help people find work, it will make life harder for people — especially those in Victoria, who are still under heavy restrictions.

The return of penalties for mutual obligations comes a month after the AUWU staged a strike, encouraging job seekers not to engage with job agencies they say “bully” people into wasting time on pointless activity.

“Job seekers may be subject to payment suspensions or penalties if they do not have a valid reason for a failure to meet their mutual obligation requirements,” a spokesperson from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment told Junkee.

“From 28 September, job seekers will have up to eight job searches to complete and report each month. This requirement will be determined by local labour market factors, the job seeker’s current study or workload, and in consultation with their employment service provider.”

The coronavirus supplement is due to end in December, which would bring the JobSeeker payment back down to $565.70 a fortnight for adults with no dependents.