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“Those that need the most get the least”: people in poverty respond to budget
Do-nothing budget ignores poverty crisis masked by low unemployment rate
The Antipoverty Centre is sickened but not shocked to see the government confirm its lack of interest in caring for poor people in tonight’s federal budget.
Millions of people who rely on Centrelink payments have had all hope of meaningful relief from poverty and cost of living increases dashed.
Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are desperately hoping no one notices the burgeoning poverty crisis before election day arrives.
- comments from the Antipoverty Centre’s Kristin O’Connell and Jay Coonan
- reactions from people living in poverty and those who rely on welfare payments
- background and statistics on unemployment, social security and poverty
While the Treasurer paints a rosy picture by fixating on the unemployment rate, other indicators more accurately tell the story: the number of people relying on JobSeeker remains stubbornly high compared to pre-COVID levels as the gap between welfare payments and the poverty line dramatically widens.
In a sign of how deeply unemployed people feel that our government hates us, many on JobSeeker expected to be excluded from any support in this year’s budget.
While we’re relieved that all welfare recipients will be included in the pathetic one-off payment of $250, unemployed people aren’t fooled by this token measure. There is no moral position that leaves people in poverty. All social security payments should be above the Henderson poverty line of $88 a day until the government does the work required to create a better measure of poverty that is fit-for-purpose in the 21st century.
As they refuse to do the one thing we know will help people survive – increase welfare payments to a liveable level and make them available to everyone who needs support – the government continues to pour money into failed wage subsidy, training and employment services schemes that often do more harm than good.
The budget is a farce. It continues every social security policy that already disproportionately harms people the government claims it wants to help: First Nations people, disabled people, parents, older people and those fleeing violence.
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.
Kristin O’Connell, a spokesperson for the Antipoverty Centre, said:
Unemployed people held little hope before tonight’s budget, and our low expectations have been cruelly realised.
A pitiful $250 payment is welcome but will barely make a dent in the bills before it’s gone. It’s not even enough to get people on JobSeeker up to the poverty line for a single week.
Social security payments must be higher. People on income support who have paid work must be allowed to keep more of their poverty payment. This is urgent.
The government is obsessed with driving the unemployment rate lower when it should be focused on what really matters – making sure people have enough money to live, whether we’re in or out of paid work.
Jay Coonan, a spokesperson for the Antipoverty Centre, said:
There’s nothing to see here. This budget, like any other that refuses to help people, is a political spectacle.
The government has done nothing to improve the lives of those who need help.