Unemployed Australians say the Prime Minister’s plan to pull the nation out of “neutral” by cutting JobSeeker will only push willing workers backwards – and under the poverty line.
On Tuesday, the Morrison government announced that it would extend the Coronavirus Supplement until March 31.
At the same time, Scott Morrison confirmed the rate would be slashed by $100 a fortnight on January 1.
The reduction means the total JobSeeker payment for a single person with no children will be reduced to $357.50 a week.
The national poverty line, as defined by the Australian Council of Social Service, is $457 a week.
The PM has insisted the reduced rate will provide an incentive for people to get back to work.
But data shows there simply aren’t enough jobs for the 1.4 million Australians currently on JobSeeker.
The people who are fruitlessly filling out the applications can attest to the fact it’s not motivation they’re lacking.
Take Annette Hill, 52, who lost her admin job at a small law firm in October after the workplace came off JobKeeper.
After paying rent Ms Hill has been living off $19 a day.
“People think $19 a day is OK. They think ‘I could buy my lunch with that’, but that’s not what living on $19 a day is,” she told The New Daily.
“A big electricity bill you aren’t anticipating can be enough. There’s no wriggle room. When you’re on $19 a day there’s not much room to borrow from Peter to pay Paul.”
Ms Hill said the government’s line that unemployed Australians were choosing not to take jobs was a beat-up.
“I’ve been to interviews and I’ve been told ‘I had 300 emails’ for this job because you’re not just competing with people out of work but also people with work,” she said.
“I was looking on the Jobactive website last night which is where Centrelink directs you to search for jobs, and I put in a range of titles, receptionist, admin, et cetera, and there were four jobs there.”
Hers is not an isolated case – and official data, as well as personal stories from applicants continue to dispel the myth that job seekers simply don’t have the motivation to work.
The most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows there were 206,000 job vacancies in the country in August.
Even if every one of those jobs was filled by people without one, that would still leave more than 730,000 Australians counted as officially unemployed.
Yet Mr Morrison has maintained that part of the reason for cutting the rate that the government initially increased to “cushion the blow” of the pandemic was because employers claimed to be having difficulty in filling jobs, particularly in regional areas.
We cannot allow the lifeline that has been extended to also now hold Australia back.’’
– Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Ms Hill said it was misconceptions such as that espoused publicly by the PM that added to the most difficult part of being on JobSeeker: The judgment.
“The mentality around impoverished people is the hardest pill to swallow,” she said.
“I don’t ever remember hearing an ambulance and thinking ‘I wonder if that person deserves that’ … welfare is the only place in our tax system where they want to place a moral judgment on you.”
Jo Blake, 45, was forced to finish at her job in a nursing home in June because she sufferers from a vestibular disorder. Her partner recently lost both of his jobs because of the pandemic.
They’ve been receiving a rental reduction, but the landlord has made it clear it will end in December.
“We might have to move, and that will be a struggle because we can’t afford to,” Ms Blake said.
She said she would look for work when her health improved, but until then would have to go without medical care.
I can’t get health insurance, new glasses, a physio when I need it, a specialist.”
– Jo Blake, former nursing-home worker
Treasury expects the unemployment rate to hit 8 per cent by the end of the year, which is much higher than the 5.2 per cent before the pandemic.
The government has not yet confirmed what the JobSeeker rate will be after March when the supplement is due to expire. Mr Morrison said the decision had not yet been made.
In response to a question from The New Daily on warnings from charities and social advocates about rising poverty and disadvantage after a rate cut, the PM said “we can’t stay stuck in neutral”.
“We do need to move forward and there are other forms of cash and emergency assistance,” he said.
“We can’t allow our safety net to hold people back. We can’t have that. That’s not good for them.”
Labor’s shadow social services minister Linda Burney protested that “there are simply not enough jobs for every Australian who needs one”.
She said Labor would move amendments to keep the supplement at its current rate and to lock in a permanent rise to the base figure.
But Labor is yet to provide a concrete figure for what it wants the permanent rate to be.