Unemployed Australians will share their stories of poverty with federal politicians in a renewed push to raise the rate of Newstart, after the government offered pensioners extra money.
More than 80 people have registered to meet their local representatives, wanting to make it clear they cannot survive on $40 a day.
Welfare advocates are sharpening their long-running campaign this week, with community forums, lunches, rallies, stalls and local councils set to pass motions.
Kristy from western Sydney is among those taking part in the campaign, saying she believes no Australian should live in poverty.
Bev, from Sydney’s inner-west, has been on Newstart and knows the difficulties of living below the poverty line.
“Many people are caught in this cruel web. The reasons people find themselves here are beyond their control,” she said.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers is hesitant about an outright increase, arguing a rise to Newstart needs to take into account other welfare payments.
The federal government has flatly rejected renewed calls to raise the rate.
“You’ve probably heard it a million times and you’re going to hear it a million again – the best form of welfare is a job,” Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told Sky News on Monday.
Labor promised to review Newstart if it won government. Its social services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, has also urged the Coalition to look at the issue.
“My own nephews are on Newstart, and I know the struggle they have to make ends meet,” she told Sky News.
The revived debate comes after the government’s cut to deeming rates, which are used to estimate how much some pensioners earn on their financial investments.
Australia’s peak seniors group has welcomed the extra cash, but immediately vowed to fight until the next election for an independent body to set the deeming rate.
However, Senator Ruston said she had all the necessary information to make a decision, rejecting calls for an independent authority.
The Greens will refer the issue to a Senate inquiry when parliament resumes next week.
Ms Burney says an independent authority should be considered in a forthcoming government review of pensions, noting it’s not currently Labor policy.
National Seniors Australia’s Ian Henschke said the government’s claim of pensioners getting more than $800 more each year doesn’t add up.
“If you have one million Australians and it will cost $150 million a year, it’s on average $150 a year, which is actually $3 a week,” he said.
Under the change, affected pensioners will receive up to $40.50 extra per fortnight for couples and $31 for singles. That means a maximum of $804 for singles and $1053 for couples, but only for the estimated 25 per cent of pensioners who have most of their investments in super, shares and bank deposits (and who do not own their own home).
The deeming rate on the first $51,800 of a single pensioner’s financial investments – and the first $86,200 of a couple’s – will drop from 1.75 per cent to 1 per cent.
The rate for balances above those amounts will change from 3.25 per cent to 3 per cent.