Will JobSeeker payments remain above ‘poverty line’?

A return to the pre-pandemic rate of $40 a day could push thousands of Australians to the brink of poverty

Will JobSeeker payments remain above ‘poverty line’?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has addressed concerns that JobSeeker payments could revert to the original $40 daily rate once the supplement programme ends in December.

Morrison said at least a portion of the coronavirus supplement – set at $250 fortnightly until 31 December – will likely be extended to 2021.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie asked for an assurance that the social safety net would be set above the “poverty line”.

Read more: JobSeekers are facing rate cuts – and fewer vacancies

Morrison said the government would continue to revaluate details of the programme in the weeks ahead right before Parliament concludes deliberations on 17 December.

“I have been clear that people can expect the supplement going forward beyond the end of this year,” the prime minister said during question time at Parliament.

While the payments will be recalibrated to a lower rate than where it is currently, the rate should still be “higher than the old Newstart rate,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, an estimated 720,000 beneficiaries received the $40 daily allowance through the Newstart programme.

When Newstart was renamed to JobSeeker – as part of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 crisis response – the number of out-of-work Australians on the programme rose to 1.4 million.

Read more: JobSeeker plan could cost 145,000 jobs: report

With the jobless rate reaching record highs amid the recession, the possibility of scaling back the benefit to the pre-pandemic rate could push thousands of Australians to the brink of poverty.

On the Services Australia website where the JobSeeker payment structure is outlined, the agency states: “From 1 January 2021, your payment will change to the normal JobSeeker Payment rate for your situation.”

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, expressed dismay that leaders have “failed to commit to a permanent and adequate increase” in welfare payments.

Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said ensuring JobSeeker “never returns to the poverty levels of the old Newstart allowance” is essential to the health and safety of unemployed Australians and to the “long-term strength of our economy”.

“JobSeeker isn’t just important during the pandemic – it is essential that people looking for work have time and security to find a job. The $40 a day rate of Newstart was a poverty trap so low that it stopped people having the resources they needed to survive while looking for work,” said ACTU President Michele O’Neil.

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