Sunday 23rd of January 2022

struggling on misery street...

struggling on...
Desperate and Hungry: Struggling to Survive on Newstart

In a raw series produced by the Guardian Newspaper earlier this year called “On the Breadline,” a group of Australians opened up, telling their own personal stories of what it’s like to be struggling to make ends meet.

What most of these stories have in common is a reliance on Government benefits to get by.

Now, a new survey released by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) backs up those stories with some fresh data. And it’s not pretty. It shows that a massive 84% of Newstart recipients skip meals regularly because they can’t afford to eat.

Of those, 30% said they missed between three and four meals each week. A further 13% go without food at least eight times a week.

Sixty-six percent don’t use heating in winter. Many go without daily showers to save money. More than 60% said they had not seen a dentist in at least two years.


Below the poverty line 

Overall, the survey shows that people are living on or below the poverty line. They can’t afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, proper healthcare or internet access, which, as ACOSS Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie, points out “severely hampers their chances of getting a job, especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking.”

And, acting as a stop-gap between jobs so people can get back on their feet, and into gainful employment, is precisely the point of Newstart, a payment of about $277.85-per-week. As the Centrelink website states, Newstart allowance is “the main income support payment while you’re unemployed and looking for work.”

But figures also show that Newstart is not necessarily a short-term measure, and that many recipients are on the Newstart allowance for long periods, the average time is between 2-3 years. Many have minimal savings to begin with, if at all.

While single, childless Newstart recipients who receive the base rate are commonly thought to live on $40 a day, the figure does not take into account bills and other expenses. After paying for housing, the majority (nearly 60%) reported they had less than $100 left for the week. A further 39% reported having $50 or less.

A separate Salvation Army report has found the situation is actually more dire and that people on Newstart live on $17 a day on average, after accommodation costs.


Newstart is below average compared to other countries

Further analysis conducted by Professor Peter Whitford of the Australian National Universityearlier this year compared Australia’s Newstart payment to other countries, found it was “below the OECD average”, behind countries such as New Zealand, France, Germany and the UK.

As such, it has the potential to trap people into a cycle of poverty that can be exceptionally difficult to get out of.


Push for an increase 

ACOSS is just one agency currently lobbying the Government to increase the allowance. But so far the Morrison Government has fended off calls for a $75 a week increase to the unemployment benefit, despite mounting pressure.

 Labor joined the Greens Party last week pushing for a senate inquiry into Newstart. However the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has responded saying any changes to welfare would be determined on what was affordable for the budget. He also claims that 99% of Newstart recipients also receive other welfare payments.

But as anyone dealing with Centrelink will know, trying to navigate the system and in particular gaining access to personal assistance, is time-consuming and particularly stressful.

For welfare recipients who need to justify all their expenses, and detail their efforts at seeking a job, getting caught in the system is not only frustrating but draining. In the last financial year, 48 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered. What’s more, if any payments get muddled up in anyway, under the new Robo-debt system, trying to prove your case can result in an endless round of uncertainty, and what’s more you could end up with a debt you’re unable to pay.

The Newstart payment has remained stagnant for more than two decades. However, experts have found that boosting the payment $75 per week (at a cost of about $3 billion to the overall economy), would not only take the stress out of day-to-day living for those people receiving the benefit, it would also benefit the economy.

report produced by Deloitte Access Economics last year also found that increasing the Newstart allowance by $75 per week would lead to a boost in consumer spending and create more than 10,000 jobs across Australia.

For many it’s difficult to understand the Morrison Government’s seemingly immovable position as anything more than heartless politics, particularly given the salaries that politicians themselves earn and retire on.

The fact of the matter is that wages are high in Australia, and while so is the cost of living, there are more incentives to actually find a job than try to live on the Newstart allowance week by week. The problem is though, there are many more unemployed people than jobs available therefore many people need to rely on Newstart to survive, for the foreseeable future. But they’re hardly kicking up their heels and having a good time, they’re struggling across all areas of the social spectrum and are in serious danger of decline without sufficient money to get by on.


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don't worry... the cost of living is "going up"...

A small rise in inflation has sparked hopes that the Australian economy may be on the mend. But only briefly.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the consumer price index (CPI) climbed to 0.6 per cent in the June quarter, pushing inflation up to 1.6 per cent for the year to June.

The results are an improvement on the dismal 0.0 per cent and 1.3 per cent for the March quarter respectively, and show inflation edging closer to the Reserve Bank’s (RBA) target of 2 to 3 per cent.

The 0.6 per cent figure in June was also slightly above the market’s expectations of 0.5 per cent – a forecast based largely on the the RBA’s two cuts to interest rates in June and July designed to stimulate the economy.

So, great news for an idling economy that needs to get revving again?

Not so hasty, is the consensus of pundits, who warn that any excitement about the sluggish economy finally gaining some steam is premature.

And, they say, the slightly better result won’t change the prospect of a further cut to interest rates in 2019.

The June figure, while slightly up, was still the 14th consecutive quarter that inflation has been below the RBA’s target of 2 to 3 per cent.


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Some daily commodities such as fruit and veggies have gone up... Other incidentals have gone down, but you cannot afford them, say like a Louis Vuitton pair of shoes...

a holiday in ratville on newstart...

The words ‘destination’ and ‘lifestyle’ conjure up mental images of moving to the Whitsundays – not living off Newstart.

But that’s how some of our politicians have framed the long-raging debate over whether the $555.70-a-fortnight payment is adequate to live off and if it’s not, by how much and how soon it should be raised.

On Monday it was former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s turn to step stage right into the light of the welfare debate.

Mr Joyce told The Courier-Mail he eats his own sheep, rarely dines in restaurants and switches off the heater on cold winter nights to make ends meet on his $211,000 parliamentary income.

Mr Joyce said he understood it is now time to lift the unemployment payment after he had to spread his salary around two families.

“It’s not that I’m not getting money, it’s just that it’s spread so thin,” he said.

Scott Morrison emphatically ruled out lifting the $40-a-day rate of Newstart, warning campaigners, including Mr Joyce, they are out of touch with what voters want.

“I’m not going to lead people on about this. You ask me ‘Are we increasing Newstart?’ Well the answer is ‘No, we are not’,” Mr Morrison told Seven News.

While Mr Joyce’s admission attracted the ire of commentators and colleagues  – Pauline Hanson asked, “Where are the tissues?” – he’s not the only one walking the halls of power suggesting those being taxed in the fifth and final bracket ($180,001 and over) aren’t always living large.

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reduce future poverty... increase superannuation...

Former prime minister Paul Keating says the suggestion that increasing the employer super contribution from 9.5 to 12 per cent would stifle wages is "the great lie".

Key points: 
  • Paul Keating says some people in the Liberal Party are "super deniers"
  • He says Labor lost the last election because it "failed to understand the middle-class economy"
  • Mr Keating likens US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as "Rodney Rude"


"It's demonstrably false because nobody since 2014 has had any increase in super, there's been no 2.5 per cent, yet wages have not increased at all," he told 7.30.

A clutch of backbench Liberal MPs have been defying the Morrison Government's official line on superannuation in recent weeks, arguing against a scheduled and already-legislated increase in the employer contribution to 12 per cent.

One newly elected Liberal, Andrew Bragg, went further, saying super should be made optional for low-income earners to give them more flexibility in their finances.

"It's like climate deniers. We've got a bunch of people in the Liberal Party who have always hated superannuation ... they are super deniers," Mr Keating said.

"Someone said yesterday, pithily, they are like anti-vaxxers, they are against vaccine, you know?

"The Parliament is currently legislated to 2.5 per cent extra super from 2021 to 2025. That's 2.5 per cent of income, whether you take it as savings or super or cash, it's still 2.5 per cent of income.

"If this is refused, essentially what a Liberal Government would be doing is pilfering, stealing, robbing the workforce of 2.5 per cent of income."



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there is no way to survive on newstart...


The Brisbane man said he gets food hampers, uses Afterpay to buy clothes and budgets $60 a month for food – just to make it through each week.

“I go to Coles and Woolies at 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights to look for heavily marked-down produce,” he said.

“I also use websites like Frugal Feeds to find bargains when I’m too tired to cook.

“One big thing I do is collect cans when I go walking to take to the refund scheme and get some extra cash.”

As the days of my Newstart challenge rolled on, I remembered how exhausting it was. Watching every cent was mentally draining.

You go to multiple supermarkets and meticulously plan each meal. One evening, I bought a brown onion for 73 cents which derailed my budget.

But unlike people actually seeking a job, I went to work each day, where it was warm and I didn’t have to pay for heating.

I charged my phone and sucked up the office Wi-Fi. It was a welcoming distraction from my dwindling bank account.

One lunchtime we had free pizza. A few times my boss took pity and took me out for coffee. They were little luxuries.

Other than that I didn’t drink coffee – I couldn’t spare the change.

I did try to give up my other major vice – but on day nine I cracked and bought a packet of cigarettes for a whopping $31 (I know, I know …).

I probably could have done without the $8 bottle of wine, too.

I usually eat out a couple of times a week, and I buy my lunch when I forget to pack it. But on Newstart, there is no financial room for mistakes.

I foraged supermarkets for bargains, planned meals days in advance and froze leftovers.

Eventually I got sick of eating noodles – and actually fell ill from eating a week-old shepherds pie.

One night I broke. Instead of going home to my Stan free trial (not that I could really afford the home Wi-Fi) I went out for dinner with a mate.

A plate of falafels, and $14.30 later, I was completely over budget.

By day eight I was climbing into dumpsters in search of food (something I used to do regularly while I was living on Newstart).

I dodged tram ticket inspectors when it was raining, and walked 50 minutes to work other days to save a few bucks.

Then came an email from my housemate. It was the electricity bill –  $122.33 for my share. And with that, it was game over.

But that was the thing – I got to tap out after two weeks. I paid my bill and went back to my salaried life.

Others I’ve spoken to don’t have that option – they’re stuck with the difficult task of just trying to get by.

Every little expense bringing you closer to falling through the cracks.

Perth-based Sarah Lane, 41, doesn’t even know if she’ll have a house in two weeks.

Ms Lane is in the process of moving. She’s crunched the numbers and needs $2128.10.

“Nearly 12 months ago I secured this rental, but the property is being taken back by the owner. I have to move in 10 days,” she said.

“I’ve considered going into my super and taking it out on hardship, but I need that. I haven’t worked in four years, I have a spinal injury.”

For Ms Lane, this move could easily make her homeless.

“I’m going back to couch-surfing again to avoid homelessness. You can’t live on Newstart. There is no way to survive.”



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