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Unemployed advocates welcome new poverty inquiry, but Centrelink payment increase cannot wait
Welfare recipients cannot pay the price of further delaying action – low payment levels are harming and killing people
The Antipoverty Centre welcomes the Greens motion for an inquiry into poverty, and is glad to see Labor and independents support it. This has the potential to be a first step towards developing a new measure of poverty that is fit-for-purpose in the 21st Century, which the Antipoverty Centre has called for since we established in May 2021.1
Included below: comments from Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Jay Coonan; background and statistics; Antipoverty Centre Election 2022 proposal for a new measure of poverty; crisis line contact information.
This inquiry is no excuse for the government’s continued refusal to act urgently on the rate of income support payments, leaving us to languish on half the poverty line.
Leading mental health researchers argue that “the first and most decisive action the government could take” to address the alarming increase in mental distress is to return to 2020 welfare payment levels, when they were lifted to the poverty line. Suicide Prevention Australia has repeatedly called for a significant increase in welfare payments. The government has also made much of its commitment to women’s safety and equality, yet the welfare system is creating the conditions that can lead to family violence, and trapping people in violent homes.
In 2020, ACOSS found that even when JobSeeker was at the Henderson poverty line a third of people were regularly skipping meals. It is not adequate, but it is the best measure of poverty we have.
All Centrelink payments must be lifted to at least the Henderson poverty line while the inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia is carried out.
Welfare recipients are weary of constantly placing our lives and despair on the record, only for politicians to discard us and move on. We want to see this poverty inquiry deliver something meaningful, but we already know what broad the findings will be, and we fear that the government will yet again ignore irrefutable evidence about the urgent need for dramatic improvements to the welfare system.
Quotes attributable to Antipoverty Centre spokesperson and JobSeeker recipient Jay Coonan:
We are glad to see the government support Senator Rice’s poverty inquiry today, almost exactly 50 years on from the inquiry led by Ronald Henderson was established.
The need to better understand poverty in this country is clear, but the need to immediately increase Centrelink payments is clearer.
Poor people have been failed too many times by government inquiries and there is no time to wait. The Albanese government must abandon its deadly austerity policies and forced labour programs like Work for the Dole.
The low rate of welfare payments is killing people. Poor people are dying by suicide at extraordinary rates. People are being forced to stay in or return to violent homes. We are skipping meals and healthcare at an unprecedented rate and the cost of living crisis is only making things worse.
This inquiry is no excuse for the government’s continued refusal to act urgently on the rate of income support payments. They must give up playing politics with our lives and increase all payments to at least the Henderson poverty line before more people die.
We look forward to working with other people on welfare payments, and those in poverty because they are unable to access them, to contribute to this inquiry.
Media contact: 0403 429 414 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Background and key 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.
There are currently nearly 900,000 people relying on unemployment payments. After September indexation is applied, the base rate of the JobSeeker payment is 45% below the latest poverty line (as at March 2022) of $611 per week. Youth Allowance is 56% below the poverty line.
AIHW data shows that the probability of someone in the lowest income quintile dying by suicide is nearly twice as high than those in the second lowest income quintile.
The JobSeeker payment was lifted to the Henderson poverty line for 6 months in 2020. An ACOSS report found that a third of people were still regularly skipping meals and 40% were unable to afford medication or adequate healthcare during that period.
Anti-Poverty Week (not affiliated with the Antipoverty Centre) reported that 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.
The cost of basic necessities increases at a dramatically faster rate than optional items, having risen by 61.4% and 38.6% respectively between 2005 and 2020. The cost of some vegetables has more than doubled in the past two years.
Excerpt from Antipoverty Centre 2022 election demands
Understanding poverty: Investigate the nature and extent of poverty in contemporary Australia
It is vital that work to develop a new measure of poverty is not used to delay the urgently needed increase in welfare payments. That is why our first recommendation is to use the best available measure of poverty we have – the Henderson poverty line – to set payment rates in the interim.
Develop a new measure of poverty that is transparent, based on real living costs for people at the low end of the income scale and that ensures a fair standard of living. The purpose of any investigation or inquiry is not just to determine how many people are affected by or living in poverty, but to determine a new, robust poverty line.
Specific work tailored to understand and measure living costs and poverty levels for disabled people, to be used to set the Disability Support Pension rate.
Specific work tailored to understand and measure living costs and poverty levels in remote communities, to be used to set any remote area allowance and guide investments in public infrastructure and labour market programs.2 A substantial amount of related work has already been done – the process needs to incorporate and be led by the existing knowledge, leadership and recommendations from First Nations-controlled work, rather than redo that work.
Establish an independent body responsible for reviewing and updating the poverty line on a regular basis using transparent methodology developed as part of this process. After the new poverty line is developed, income support payment rates should be tied to this figure rather than other indexation methods.
Note: All existing poverty measures are flawed.3 By developing a transparent method that is better able to assess what is required to maintain a fair standard of living, we will establish a poverty line that is responsive to meaningful changes in living costs that would arise from other public investments, such as housing, health and transport. For example, significant changes in the housing market may see the poverty line reduce.
Crisis support and counselling services
If you need support you can seek guidance, counselling or crisis help from the below organisations or talk to someone you trust.
Suicide Call Back Service – general: 1300 659 467
SANE Australia – general: 1800 187 263
13YARN – for First Nations people: 13 92 76
National Counselling and Referral Service – for disabled people: 1800 421 468
Headspace – for young people: 1800 650 890
QLife – fo LGBTQIA+ people: 1800 184 527
Full Stop – for people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault: 1800 385 578
Embrace Mental Health – multilingual service: embracementalhealth.org.au
MensLine – for men: 1300 789 978
Brother to Brother – for First Nations men: 1800 435 799
About the Antipoverty Centre
The Antipoverty Centre was established in May 2021 by people living on Centrelink payments to counter problems with academics, think tanks and others in the political class making harmful decisions on behalf of people they purport to represent.
We have deep expertise in poverty, disadvantage and unemployment, because we live it. Our goal is to help ensure the voices and rights of people living in poverty are at the centre of social policy development and discourse. We believe there should be no decision made about us without us.
The Antipoverty Centre is not aligned with any political party and does not accept funding that places political constraints on our work.
Antipoverty Centre, ‘Lessons not learned; needs not met’ [submission], Submission 9, Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Bill 2021 [Provisions], access via: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Education_and_Employment/SocialSecurityBill/Submissions.
The nature of local economies in remote communities means a more targeted and higher level of investment in jobs programs is required to maintain a fair standard of living over time. For example, in an area with higher population density, access to a public housing property and/or housing assistance payment is likely to be sufficient to maintain a fair standard of living. By contrast, remote communities may not have resourcing for housing to be maintained. Investment in public sector jobs that provide these services and incorporate skills development would be one way of improving the sustainability of housing over the long-term. So in remote communities, it should be understood that regardless of income support rates, an adequate standard of living can only be maintained with significant levels of direct investment in infrastructure and programs that support longer term needs, and that create the jobs and skills base to support those needs. The needs of specific communities should be determined by those communities and funded by the federal government. In terms of poverty alleviation, these would include housing, health services, education, food security, etc.
Limitations include the reliance on relative poverty measures used internationally that do not account for significantly higher housing costs in Australia. In relation to the HPL, the original baseline figure does not reflect the costs of items considered standard today, such as internet and mobile phones.