JobSeeker increase isn’t enough, says chief minister

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CANBERRA advocates for a “more sustainable, liveable and permanent rate above the poverty line” has slammed a lack of increase for income support.

JobSeeker has been lifted by exactly $50 a fortnight to $615.70 in the wake of coronavirus supplements ending on March 31.

The federal government made the announcement on Tuesday (February 23) of Australia’s biggest single increase in unemployment benefits, but only adds an extra $3.57 a day in the hip pocket for the jobless.

The payment that equates to living off just $44 a day that has to include covering the rent is also $145 below the poverty line in the ACT.

The ACT government is now calling on its federal counterparts down the road on the hill to commit to far greater increases of JobSeeker contributions.

“Raising the rate is far and away the clearest, simplest and most efficient way to lift people out of poverty,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

The Labor-Greens coalition government claim low levels of social security payments are a “major cause of poverty”.

Earlier this month, assistant minister for families and community services Emma Davidson blamed the rising rate of Canberrans living in poverty down to the federal government.

But she also refused to lead calls from the ACT Opposition to establish a poverty taskforce, suggesting the Canberra Liberals’ proposal would delay action and divert resources from initiatives that addresses the root causes of poverty in the capital.

That seemed to contradict much of the Chief Minister’s stance this week.

“Governments at all levels have a role to play in supporting people facing poverty, but the Commonwealth government has by far the greatest capacity to permanently address this issue,” Mr Barr said.

“We should be working together to get incomes rising, to get more people in jobs and to encourage wage growth.”

The ACT Council of Social Service called the increase “brutal” and that it was “devastating news” for the unemployed that will “plunge thousands of Canberrans deeper into poverty”.

“This cruel and devastating decision will impact thousands of Canberrans receiving income support while looking for work,” ACTCOSS chief executive Dr Emma Campbell said.

The latest figures for January of this year indicate 12,292 Canberrans are receiving income support without a job.

This has almost doubled the figure from 12 months ago, according to Dr Campbell.

“It is a heartless betrayal of people with the least – children, women, single parents, people with disability, older Canberrans, students and others – relying on income support,” she said.

“Already, at $51 a day with the temporary coronavirus supplement, people on JobSeeker are being forced to choose between housing, food, medications, basic toiletries and paying bills.”

ACTCOSS is calling for, at least, a further increase of $25 a day on top of the old $40 a day Newstart rate.

Federal government obligations for job seekers will also increase, with the number of job searches now required each month to rise gradually to 20 vacancies from July 1, all the while employers will have the power to dob in refusals of job offers through a new hotline.

“We call on all sides of ACT politics to publicly condemn this heartless decision and to call on the federal government to adequately increase the rate of JobSeeker,” Dr Campbell said.

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