A social justice organisation has issued a chilling warning to Hunter residents as federal government payments, established to assist struggling families during COVID-19, wind down.
At the end of March, Australians could be facing the end of the Coronavirus Supplement, signalling a return to a JobSeeker rate of about $40 a day from the current $51.
And, the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) believes “going backwards” will send hundreds of thousands of people deeper into hardship.
The group, along with ACOSS and other national bodies, are standing together in calling for a permanent and adequate rate increase to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other income supports to ensure recipients stay above the poverty line.
Earlier this month, Shortland MP Pat Conroy also expressed his fears about the impacts of the forthcoming cuts, including JobKeeper, in his Newcastle-based electorate.
“It’s a heartless decision by the Morrison government,” he told the Weekly.
“It’ll hurt a lot of people.”
BSL chief executive officer Conny Lenneberg agreed, adding “we cannot go back to where we were pre-COVID-19”.
“A rate of $40 a day does not allow people to cover basic expenses – now more than ever,” she said.
“We’ve seen the positive impact of an increased rate during the pandemic.
“People who used to skip on either breakfast or lunch have finally been able to eat healthily, visit the dentist, turn on the heating or buy a jumper to keep warm during the winter.
“Cutting the rate again will force them to make extremely difficult choices around where they spend their money.
“People shouldn’t be forced to choose between a meal and staying warm in a country as rich as Australia.
“Everybody deserves a fair and just life – a life with dignity.”
The initial introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement, in response to the pandemic, meant Jobseeker recipients received nearly double the old Newstart Allowance payment.
“It was a move that effectively recognised that the original rate of $40 was simply too low to live on, but it has been repeatedly cut since,” Ms Lenneberg said.
“With the pandemic’s effects still lingering, this is not a time to move backwards.”
She added it was devastating to think of how many children would again go to bed hungry and start the school year without the things they needed as a consequence of this decision.
The proposed reductions come alongside data that paints a bleak picture of the employment prospects in Australia.
While the labour market has shown a slow, but steady improvement, overall unemployment remains much higher than pre-COVID-19 levels, sitting at 6.6% in December according to ABS statistics – well above the 6% benchmark that the government holds for enacting austerity policies.
The latest December 2020 ABS data shows that there are about 222,000 more unemployed people compared to before the pandemic in December 2019.
“Falling out of work shouldn’t mean falling into poverty,” Ms Lenneberg said.
“All of us need the assurance of knowing there is a fair social security safety net there to catch us when we fall on hard times.
“It’s time to raise the rate for good.
“Politicians need to hear from us and their local constituents about the negative effects of the government’s decision.”
BSL is calling for the base rate of JobSeeker to be permanently raised, to ensure that recipients do not return to below-poverty levels again.
Local members will return to Parliament on 2 February, where talks to end the Coronavirus Supplement at the end of March will be on top of the agenda.
“Your voice matters,” Ms Lenneberg said.
“Please help by calling your local MP as soon as possible.”
Find your electorate and local MP’s contact details at https://www.aph.gov.au/senators_and_members/members