JobSeeker – what a missed opportunity to help the most impoverished.

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Jenny Begent.

5 March 2021.

Now that we have happened upon fortunate times, let us recognise that we are our brother’s keepers, and set to work, regardless of party distinctions and religious differences, to make this world of ours a little bit like home for those whom we call our brethren.

William Booth 1890.

Over a century ago, William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army, petitioned government for equitable distribution of wealth. We face the same challenge today. Despite improvements in economic circumstances, as our community works to recover from the Covid pandemic, there has been little recognition that people whose economic circumstances were stressful before Covid are most likely to be further excluded as we recover. There has been strong support across all sectors of the community for a significant rise in income support levels. This support has highlighted the social and economic benefits of payment increase. The government has chosen, however, to ignore this widespread call for real change.

The current government’s response to JobSeeker flies in the face of their previous election policy platform, Our Plan: Real Solutions for all Australians. One of its aims was to deliver ‘a decent and respectful society that gives a ‘fair go’ to all, and encourages people to thrive and get ahead’.    ‘A fair go to all’ means continuing to invest in those within our community who are most in need, to ensure they can participate fully in and contribute to our society. It is therefore imperative that the Federal Government consider the needs of those who are disadvantaged when they are determining their fiscal priorities.   

We know from service evaluations and data that the rise in JobSeeker through Covid greatly benefitted all recipients of welfare payments. Their lives improved; they were no longer beholden to a welfare agency to meet the basic needs of food and shelter. It is quite shocking to me that government, with this knowledge, chose to provide the paltry amount of $25 per week as we move forward. $25 equates to about $3.60 a day; you can’t have a coffee, can’t catch the train. It is disturbing that the government missed such a great opportunity to close the gap and to give ‘a fair go to all and encourage people to thrive and get ahead’. It is beyond my comprehension that the government decided in that one decision that not all would have a fair go.

We can all agree, of course, that the ultimate means of eliminating disadvantage is access to real jobs to provide a living wage. Currently, however, there are nine unemployed for every available job. So, placing job seekers on poverty conditions in such circumstances is in effect punishing them for their unemployed status, rather than giving them the dignity and support they deserve while they seek work.

We should never aim for the restoration of the nation’s budget at the expense of the basic human rights of individuals and families. And it is incumbent upon those who represent the marginalised and disadvantaged in our communities to continue to advocate for a just and equitable approach to the current challenging fiscal climate. 

Government can participate in the transformation of those on the margins and those at risk of disadvantage and poverty by ensuring current welfare payments are lifted to a reasonable level. People on benefits could then afford to travel to employment and education, pay their rent, provide health and education for their children, and put food on the table. 

I really want to believe that the members of our current government really care about poor and disadvantaged Australians. But the real test of their priorities is not what they say; it’s what they do. Good economic management addresses fiscal and social challenges ensuring ALL Australians can rise beyond their current circumstances and equally achieve full participation in the social and economic life of our community.

This JobSeeker announcement fails miserably in ensuring fair outcomes for those most in need.

Major Jenny Begent is National Head of Social Mission for The Salvation Army Australia Territory. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for Social Policy Connections.

Photo Homeless. Errasti. flicker cc.

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