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Politicians don’t understand unemployment; they’re failing millions of us as a result
Whoever wins, we lose. Morrison's cynical jobs announcement offers nothing, and the opposition has confirmed it will not increase JobSeeker. We know there is a poverty crisis because we live it.
The Antipoverty Centre is calling on all politicians to take unemployment and poverty seriously, and value the millions of us relying on income support. They exploit stories of poverty when it’s convenient to pretend they care, then discard us and move on.
- comments from the Antipoverty Centre’s Kristin O’Connell and Jay Coonan
- reaction from Mel Fisher, who lives on JobSeeker and whose story has been used by Andrew Leigh
- background and statistics on unemployment, social security and poverty
We have worked hard over the past 12 months to produce analysis that shows the problems with how we measure and understand employment and poverty. But the Coalition and Labor party have repeatedly ignored and failed us, sticking to outdated statistics that do not reflect reality.
Unemployed workers are not economic units to be plugged into holes. The majority of the 870,000 people on JobSeeker, the most common working age welfare payment, are either disabled, experiencing age discrimination, already employed, or a combination of these.
Scott Morrison today re-announced existing commitments to “deliver 1.3 million new jobs”. He either doesn’t understand or simply doesn’t care whether these are suitable jobs, or whether the pay and conditions are enough to get us off unemployment payments.
In a devastating blow to people on income support, today the shadow minister for treasury and charities Andrew Leigh has told the very charities who support people in poverty that Labor will do nothing for those of us who rely on Centrelink payments to live. The Labor party claims to stand up for us, but they have abandoned 2.5 million working age people relying on abysmal payments. There are not jobs for most of those who are out of paid work, but even the 200,000 employed people who rely on unemployment payments to supplement badly paid jobs have been offered no hope.
Both political parties are disingenuously using the misleading unemployment rate of 4% to kick unemployed people and send the message that we are at fault, and therefore undeserving of having enough money to live. But more people rely on unemployment payments to live than before the pandemic, when the unemployment rate was 5.1%.
Antipoverty Centre analysis of ABS and Department of Social Services data shows that while the unemployment rate has not been this low since before the global financial crisis in 2008 when it was also 4%, the proportion of working age people who rely on an unemployment payment has nearly doubled – from 3.3% in mid-2008 compared to about 5.9% today.
We have compared DSS data to show that the number of people who rely on JobSeeker (formerly Newstart) has increased by 41% to 786,139 people (83.84% of all people on JobSeeker) compared to 557,395 before the pandemic.
Using DSS data and reports from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, we have highlighted that of about 1 million people with ‘mutual’ obligations who are forced to use employment services (jobactive and Disability Employment Services), 477,000 are disabled.
Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Kristin O’Connell, who lives on the Disability Support Pension, said:
These announcements today are a devastating blow. They show that we face yet another election where unemployed people will be used as a political football, with no consideration for our lives. Whoever wins, we lose.
It is a sick joke that the shadow minister for charities has used an event organised by the Australian Council of Social Services, which represents organisations who support people in poverty, to tell us that Labor will do nothing for people who live in poverty.
The political narrative that everything is great is frankly bullshit. Nearly 1 million are suffering on unemployment payments that are just half the poverty line. And 20% of those are employed in jobs so bad they can’t escape poverty.
Our own analysis of government figures show the total disconnect between the unemployment rate and the reality: more people, whether they have paid or unpaid work, are relying on unemployment payments. And because of the punitive rules these politicians put in place, many people who need support can’t get a payment at all.
We again urge politicians to grow a spine and commit to increasing all social security payments to the Henderson poverty line, which is currently $88 a day, and ensure that everyone who needs support can get it. It should be their first and highest priority to make sure everyone has enough to live.
Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Jay Coonan, who relies on the JobSeeker payment, said:
The Liberal and Labor parties have repeatedly ignored and failed those of us who live on Centrelink payments, sticking to outdated statistics like the unemployment rate that do not reflect reality. They exploit stories of poverty when it’s convenient to pretend they care, then discard us and move on.
It would appear that both parties are happy to keep people in — and punish them with — poverty. We are disgusted that they are leveraging the election campaign to signal to the public that not only are they happy to brutalise those of use who rely on income support, but that they are happy to do so.
People are suffering in bad jobs with bad hours and terrible conditions – this is the story politicians don’t want told when they talk about employment.
While they are crowing about jobs and growth, or pretending that some vague promise of social housing years from now will help put food in our stomachs, there are 23 people who've been on an unemployment payment for more than 12 months for each entry level job.
We need the media, professional advocates, academics and other groups to join us — do not let the politicians get away with peddling this false narrative that they create and perpetuate. We and the people we support are the ones on the ground, the people living in poverty, and we’re the ones suffering the consequences of their choices.
Reaction to Andrew Leigh’s remarks from a person on JobSeeker:
Background and statistics
Click here to download a more in-depth background document containing additional statistics and links to all sources for data included in this section.
The unemployment rate has not been this low since before the global financial crisis in 2008 when it was also 4%, but the proportion of working age people who rely on an unemployment payment has nearly doubled – from 3.3% in mid-2008 compared to about 5.9% today.
There are about 23 people who have been on an unemployment payment for more than 12 months for each entry level job advertised in February 2022 (this does not account for competition from other applicants who are not on a payment or are short-term unemployed).
In December 2019, 557,395 people (76.5%) on Newstart had relied on income support for longer than one year. By December 2021 this had increased by 41% to 786,139 people (83.84% of all people on JobSeeker). The average length of time people on JobSeeker have been on a payment is 5.5 years.
There are 2.5 million people of working age and their kids relying on a Centrelink payment to survive. Another 2.5 million people are on the age pension.
By September 2021 people on the JobSeeker payment were $31 a week further below the Henderson poverty line than before COVID.
21% of people on unemployment payments are employed.
A person on JobSeeker can be employed for up to 30 hours a week at the minimum wage and still earn so little that they qualify for an unemployment payment and remain below the poverty line.
In 2020, when JobSeeker and other payments were lifted to the poverty line, the Australian Council of Social Services found that 33% of people were still regularly skipping meals and 40% were unable to afford medication or adequate healthcare.
Of about 1 million people with ‘mutual’ obligations who are forced to use employment services (jobactive and Disability Employment Services), 477,000 are disabled.
13% of women who left a violent partner returned because they did not have money or adequate financial support. Women aged 21-28 years in financial hardship were more than three times as likely to report severe partner abuse in a year, and more than 60,000 women aged 15-24 years who experienced violence in 2019 also experienced moderate to very high levels of financial hardship.