A group of more than 7,000 Australians who support maintaining the permanent increase to the JobSeeker allowance will be mobilised to directly engage Federal MPs to ensure the old Newstart rate of $40 a day will not be revived in three months.
With the JobSeeker allowance – alongside the JobKeeper support – under a review that will report to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg next month, there is widespread concern that doubling the payment to cope with the COVID-19 crisis will end in September.
The Raise the Rate campaign, which arose out of a discussion at Philanthropy Australia’s 2018 conference, has sought to address the iniquities of the old Newstart rate that trapped many of its recipients in poverty.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie said the Federal Coalition Government had “…effectively acknowledged that the old Newstart rate of $40 a day was inadequate by doubling the payment in the face of COVID-19.’’
“In addition to our direct engagement, we are mobilising a growing large network of over 7,000 supporters to directly engage with their Federal MPs as well as working with our organisational supporters to speak with political representatives in local electorates,’’ Dr Goldie said.
There will be an increase in social media presence, updated messaging to maximise social and digital campaign reach, while activating new supporters through social media platforms, the campaign website and electronic direct mail.
“The focus of the campaign in the short term will be two-fold: extending the current Coronavirus Supplement beyond September and pushing for a permanent increase ongoing,’’ Dr Goldie said.
The number of Australians on the supplement doubled during the pandemic: from 813,000 in December, 2019 to 1.64 million in May, 2020. If the figures revert to their 2019 level after September, there is a potentially severe risk to the national economic recovery.
Numerous respected economists have forecast a sudden withdrawal of the supplements could trigger a double-dip recession.
The Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, said earlier this month that he saw the JobSeeker and JobKeeper supplements as complementary and he would not speculate on their future while the review was underway. But several weeks earlier he said: “It is also important that when you have what are effectively unemployment benefits through JobSeeker at the levels that they are, that when you do that, that can provide in normal circumstances a disincentive with payments at that level for people to go and seek work. And that's why these arrangements with the COVID supplement are temporary arrangements.’’
The campaign to ensure the new rate is maintained will continue during the coming months The Wyatt Trust in Adelaide was one of the original contributors to Raise the Rate and it is still the leading funding collaborator, with 15 different foundations and donors involved in the campaign.
Wyatt CEO and PA board member Stacey Thomas said: “We’ve got about 50 per cent of what we need for the next stage of the campaign.’’
“It’s another wonderful example of foundations and donors coming together across the country for a cause and is a good demonstration of how philanthropy backs and mobilises around community sentiment.’’
Dr Goldie said ACOSS acknowledged the difficult economic circumstances, but its research had shown that the overwhelming majority of Australians think that $40 a day was too little to live on and there had to be an increase. The old Newstart rate had effectively not increased in real terms since 1994.
There has been speculation from outside the campaign about what that increased figure should be – one economist suggested that it should be raised by $185 a week to bring it into line with the pension paid to the aged, people with disability and carers But there is no agreement yet on a final figure.
Dr Goldie said there was a significant economic upside to maintaining the current rate of payments. “Alpha-Beta research shows that people on the lowest incomes - people receiving income support payments like JobSeeker - have been holding up spending during this pandemic,’’ she said. “If people's incomes are cut in half, we will see spending drop substantially, which will only serve to further hinder our recovery.
She said ACOSS sought further financial support in order to undertake economic modelling about the economic benefits of a substantial increase to social security payments to provide further evidence of how this would strengthen the post-COVID recovery.
If anyone would like further information on how to get involved in the funding collaboration please contact Stacey Thomas at The Wyatt Trust, www.wyatt.org.au.
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