THE St Vincent de Paul Society’s national chief executive officer Dr John Falzon has described the Federal Government’s recent Budget as “less Robin Hood and more Sheriff of Nottingham”.
Dr Falzon and other Catholic social justice advocates said the Government’s failure in the Budget to lift the Newstart payment for the unemployed and single parents forced onto the allowance was a major concern.
“The Newstart payment is now so low that it has become, for many, a path to despair instead of a path to employment,” Dr Falzon said.
“At around only 40 per cent of the after-tax minimum wage, our unemployment benefit has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994.”
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Christopher Saunders, Jose-phite Justice co-ordinator Jan Barnett and Catholic Social Services Australia executive director Paul O’Callaghan joined Dr Falzon in calling for an increase in the Newstart allowance to $50 a week to improve the situation.
They noted statistics showing one in eight people and one in six children in Australia lived in poverty and many of those were on Newstart.
Bishop Saunders said “increasingly it is Australia’s charities that have been picking up the pieces for a social security system now failing the fundamental test of getting food on the table”.
“Over 800,000 Australians are struggling to survive on employment-related allowance payments,” he said.
“The majority receive the Newstart Allowance.
The single rate of payment is less than $250 per week, or $35 a day.
“The Australian Council of Social Service estimates that people who are unemployed are five times more likely than other Australians to be in poverty.
“Around 17 per cent of households reliant on allowances are going without meals just to make ends meet, and some agencies report that as many as half the recipients they assist are going without food.”
Mr O’Callaghan said “CSSA welcomes the modest increase to the income-free threshold of $19 per week for Newstart recipients”.
“However the large majority of unemployed Australians will be unable to take advantage of this initiative,” he said.
He called for “an independent mechanism for determining allowances such as Newstart”.
Ms Barnett said “there is little doubt Australians on the Newstart Allowance are among those most disadvantaged by the Budget”.
“The present allowance falls far short of what is needed for people to live with dignity in Australia today,” she said.
“Entrenching people in poverty will not provide a realistic pathway back into employment.
“We do sympathise with the downturn in the economy at this time.
“We continue to believe, however, that those who are already in desperate straits should not have to bear such a significant burden of this downturn.
“As we learnt this week, 70 Australians who earned $194 million in 2010-2011 paid no income tax.
“Surely it would be more reasonable and just to target more significant tax reform rather than the most vulnerable in our community.”