Politics Analysis

Albanese Government leaving JobSeeker destitute behind

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Many are struggling to survive on JobSeeker while the Labor Government does nothing to raise the rate (Screenshot via YouTube)

Despite promises to leave no Australian behind, the Labor Government has turned its back on JobSeeker recipients stricken by poverty, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

PRIME MINISTER Anthony Albanese relied heavily throughout the last election campaign on his origin story of growing up poor with a single mother on an invalid support pension in public housing.

There’s much to be said for someone lacking the grace and favour of money and privilege nevertheless winning the most powerful job in politics.

However, Mr Albanese is now in danger of being seen as pulling up the ladder as he continues to dodge around the matter of some one million Australians, including children, who are living in dire poverty because the Federal Labor Government will not undertake, as a matter of urgency, to substantially raise the JobSeeker rate.

The JobSeeker payment is currently $269 a week below the poverty line.

According to The Guardian, the payment is intended as an unemployment benefit, however:

‘...it is increasingly accessed by people with illnesses or disabilities, including some who are locked out of the disability support pension due to changes by successive governments.’

If Albanese and his mum were in the same situation today, they’d likely be living in a car/tent, couch surfing or on the streets, as there simply is not nearly enough public housing to meet demand.

Mrs Albanese may also have lost a substantial portion of her government support when Anthony turned eight, a measure introduced by the Government of the first Labor PM, Julia Gillard, to “encourage” single parents into employment. The change moved single parents off their pension and onto Newstart (now known as JobSeeker) leaving them between $60 and $100 a week worse off.

The remaining benefit would not have stretched to food, shelter, school activities, clothes, bus fares, sports, presents, treats and toys, some of which the young Anthony may have enjoyed then, but would not have access to now.

So not only can Mr Albanese be perceived as pulling up the ladder, he’s pulling it up on kids a good deal worse off than he was.

Commenting on the report from the Interim Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which recommended a 40 per cent increase in the JobSeeker payment, Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers stated:

“The Albanese Government will always look to provide support where we can to those most in need, where it is responsible and affordable to do so, and weighed up against other priorities and fiscal challenges.”

Making “responsible and affordable” fiscal decisions is generally an admirable quality in a government. But when faced with more than a million people, some of whom are hungry, homeless, ill and unable to afford medical treatment, many of whom are children, one might dare to hope that “responsible and affordable” support might be, on review, replaced with “responsible, urgent and immediate” support.

After all, what is more responsible than ensuring your citizens have the means to feed and house themselves, thus assisting them to get out of poverty?

If there is anything more admirable than making conscientious fiscal decisions, it’s being able to recognise and rise to situations that are indisputably critical.

There is no challenge more urgent and critical than that faced by people struggling to stay alive and keep their children alive on $49 a day, and the Government ought to be able to both acknowledge this and rise to address the challenge.

The Government’s attitude as expressed by Chalmers is chilling. In effect, it is implying that Australians living in dire poverty are not a priority for this Labor administration, which apparently would prefer to be known for caution rather than responsible compassion.

The cost of raising the rate as recommended by the committee would be some $24 billion over the forward estimates.

The cost of the controversial Stage 3 tax cuts, set to overwhelmingly benefit the more privileged, has blown out to $254 billion over ten years.

It really is a no-brainer.

Mr Albanese’s origin story is admirable. At the time of the Election, many people took from it that a government led by him would show practical compassion for those in similar and worse situations. Unfortunately, the message currently conveyed by the Labor Government is that while it understands how difficult life is for millions of Australians struggling to survive on inadequate support, it finds itself unable to do anything much about it.

“We see you drowning and we’re sorry you’re drowning but we won’t save you” differs from neoliberal ideology only in the use of the word “sorry”, itself made redundant by the context.

I doubt we will hear much more from Mr Albanese about his origins, given that they are so easily weaponised as a consequence of his Government’s apparent willingness to leave so many behind, despite his reassurances to the contrary.

‘No one left behind. No one held back.’ ~ Anthony Albanese, January 18 2022.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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