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Charities, Unions and Social Welfare Groups Call For Living Incomes For Everyone: The LIFE Campaign Begins

By Loz Lawrey  

Throughout the current Coalition government’s term in office, social activist groups and even business leaders have been calling for the abysmally low Newstart (now JobSeeker) payment of $565.70 per fortnight to be raised to at least a minimum level that affords recipients the ability to meet their basic needs: food, shelter and the necessities of life.

In real terms, the rate of Newstart has been frozen at its current punitive level since 1994, as this 2016 article in The Conversation explains.

For years, successive governments have allowed this social justice issue to fester as one of the elephants in Australia’s room (like climate change inaction, the inhumane treatment of indigenous Australians and asylum seekers in detention… etc… ).

A religious obsession with neoliberalism has always strangled the Coalition’s ability to acknowledge and respond effectively to the real-world issues that our nation confronts.

That cultish ideology reframes every debate in money market terms: the economy becomes pre-eminent and over-arching while society, where the actual real people reside with their very real need for assistance and support from a government that claims to govern in their name. Trickle down rules.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has, however, thrown the economic and social cards into the air and forced  the Morrison government to deliver what society required: an immediate all-encompassing (more or less) protective response to both the pandemic itself and its resultant economic damage and unemployment.

Suddenly, the Coalition’s tiresome judgmental weasel statements such as “a fair go for those who have a go” sound like the screech of fingernails on blackboard.

At times like these, what choice do conservative governments have? Knocked off their ideological perches and pedestals, they embrace a form of socialism. And throw some money around in the public interest.

This irony has not escaped many, but what choice do they have?  Australia is, after all, a social democracy and we expect our governments to step up and act to assist us all in times of crisis.

Although it has been widely reported that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Morrison government has “doubled” the fortnightly JobSeeker payment, this is in fact not the case. The payment remains at $565.70, or a mere $40.40 per day.

It is the provision of a separate additional “coronavirus supplement” of $550.00 per fortnight that has, for practical purposes, “doubled” the payment, bringing it to $1,115.70 or $79.69 per day.

Why not just increase the JobSeeker payment? Why the separate ”coronavirus supplement”? It’s simple. In September 2020, once eradication or sufficient suppression of the virus has been achieved and things return, to some extent at least, to “normal” (we hope), the Coalition intends to jettison the supplement and return JobSeeker payments to the previous punitive and insufficient Newstart level of a mere $40.40 per day.

Yes, they are indeed that bloody-minded.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted is this: the government has only succeeded in keeping pre-pandemic unemployment payments at such a low level because charities have taken up the slack and unemployed Australians were an easily-disregarded minority.

Come September, those charities expect a surge in demand they will be unable to meet should payments revert to previous levels. Let’s not forget that vast numbers of newly unemployed Australians may never work again and may require ongoing assistance.

The arrival of the pandemic and the need for a Keynesian “pump-priming” response forced the Morrison government to raise the Jobseeker payment to a level that actually worked in the real world.

It’s one thing to demonise, marginalise and underpay unemployed Australians when they constitute a small percentage of the population, but quite another to treat the hordes of citizens who’ve lost their livelihoods in the past three months with similar contempt.

Under the Coalition, the JobSeeker payment has been kept deliberately low, an inadequate support payment deliberately designed to punish those unable (or, in the government’s twisted view, unwilling) to find employment.

When only a small percentage of the population is unemployed, they become easy targets for demonisation by others.

When most Australians are enjoying the good times provided by a healthy economy, for those left behind the “dole bludger” myth is easily maintained, stoked as it is by commercial media and conservative politicians.  With the arrival of COVID-19 that myth collapsed.

The millions of working Australians who’ve lost their livelihoods due to the effects of the pandemic cannot be tarred with the brush of laziness that the Morrisons of this world have always applied to those in need.

In Australia in 2018-19, the “poverty line” (measured as 50% of median income) was $457.00 per week for a single adult or $65.28 per day.

The poverty line represents the income level below which an individual is considered “poor” and unable to provide for their daily needs. Clearly $40.40 per day represents a level of support that leaves recipients living in a state of constant stress and anxiety, struggling to pay for rent, bills and food.

It should be a given that, in a civilised society, even one suffering from the current pandemic-induced upheavals, that social support payments for the unemployed and disadvantaged should never be allowed to fall below the poverty line.

That line represents the cutoff point, the social Plimsoll line below which loss of dignity, misery and marginalisation become the lived experience of  those forced to rely on welfare.

By adding a coronavirus supplement to JobSeeker, the government raised the payment to a level that sits just above the poverty line, a level at which the many recently unemployed could manage to pay their rent, feed their kids and survive these most difficult times.

Surely this is the level at which it should have already been set? The Coalition’s creation of the Corona virus supplement was a clear admission that payment levels to date had been woefully inadequate. It also helped them avoid howls of anger and outrage from the most recently unemployed.

So what will happen come September? Will the pandemic still be with us? Will the need for lockdowns and social distancing still be the dominant force?

Whatever the answer, the JobSeeker allowance must not be allowed to revert to pre-pandemic levels.

We must ensure that future governments focus on job creation rather than implementing a regime that punishes those with no job.

COVID-19 has taught many formerly working Australians a harsh lesson about unemployment: that dole bludger can easily be you. And you can find yourself in the dole queue overnight.

We can only hope that in the future our society and its governments will show more compassion and understanding to those of us who, at one time or another in their lives, need help.

Trade unionists, social activist groups, charities and individuals are now coming together to endorse the simple claim for a Living Income, in other words a minimum social support payment that allows recipients to provide for themselves and continue their quest for employment with the dignity that all members of society deserve.

The Living Incomes For Everyone (LIFE) campaign is organising via Facebook to ensure $1,100 per fortnight becomes the absolute minimum payment below which no-one should be forced to struggle for survival.

This national campaign is receiving more endorsements from groups and individuals each day as we head for the government’s cutoff date of 27 September. The list of participating organisations is growing longer and longer and is regularly updated here.

The grassroots LIFE campaign is people-driven.

You can find a summary of its demands here.

To participate, go to the Living Incomes For Everyone Facebook page.

To find out more and to hear speakers from some of the collaborating organisations, you can attend the official online launch of the LIFE campaign on 21 July at 7.30pm here.

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13 comments

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  1. Yes Minister

    Whilst I do not support any flavour of grubbermunt (they are all, without exception, bottom-feeding bloodsucking parasites), the dole is not, and was never intended to be a living income. It merely provides a way to eke out a temporary existence until the victim finds another just over broke (which is well nigh impossible and becoming more so thanks to the coronavirus boondoggle) or starts a business. Something that is conveniently overlooked by 99% of dole victims is the ease of getting into the SEV scheme, which means no interaction with brain dead job network fuckwits for a year and the ability to earn external income without losing the dole. Anyone with a smidgin of nous should be able to get a business venture up and running within a year.

    Despite the demented rantings of all kinds of do-gooders, it isn’t on the agenda of any political / bureaucratic crime gang to pay people to go surfing / paint crap / indulge in whatever non-earning pursuits. Welcome to the real world folks, either you figure how to feed yourselves, resign yourselves to scratching by on the dole, or follow the lead set by thousands of deadbeat politicians and get into crime. Eventually you’ll be assigned free accommodation with three meals a day.

  2. Ihere

    Yes Minister, the idea of working for a living is yet to sink in for some, especially politicians and journalists. They have a sweet gig so why would they care? The delusion continues that all kinds of jobs are going to return as soon as big bad virus is eliminated by silly Billy Gates and Big Pharma. As the day approaches the media will treat the public to a big and righteous fanfare courtesy of legions of High Priests of Vaccines (you can find them hiding in plain sight at your local GP clinic).
    Much of the public has no idea what is happening, they speak of a return to normal and assume that someone else should pick up the bill. Future generations will, too easy suckers. Our ‘government’ is a corporation registered in Washington DC and they don’t care. Expecting govt to fix the problems they have created, or expecting the media to make any sense of anything real is a waste of time. On a positive note, I see on another thread Kayne West is about to stir the pot. Now more than ever the marginalized need a voice, so there’s a positive for the day – Kayne spooking the horses.

  3. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. surly your knowledge of kitchen table economics that the Liarbrals insist truly represents national economic policy would encourage you to believe that politicians evading sitting in Parliament while drawing a full salary and expenses package is a morally supportable policy that ensures the unChristian politicians representing themselves rather than Australian voters are not adversely affected by the financial consequences of the poorly managed COVID-19 pandemic.

    @Yes Minister: Check out the many no cost health benefits of the Canadian Universal Basic Income (UBI) research stopped by the Harper Conservative government before analysis showed that the health budget actually saved more than the UBI cost over the five years it operated.

    @Ihere: Ignorance is the preferred state in a fascist political economy. Keep the peasants uninformed so that they cannot discover the too many graft & corruption deals being done by, and on behalf of, politicians of the ruling political party.

  4. Matters Not

    Re neo-liberalism and its pervasiveness becoming a:

    cultish ideology reframes every debate in money market terms

    Indeed! And it’s penetrated deep into the subconscious. So much so, it’s now quite common for Australians even when speaking of their interactions with government to define themselves as taxpayers rather than citizens. While there are lots of taxpayers, (try children who buy ice-blocks, tourists who enter for holidays, multinational corporations which engage in commercial transactions, foreign diplomats on assignment etc) the paying or the not paying of tax is not central to the role of being a citizen.

    But if being a taxpayer was essential to citizenship, it would be reasonable to argue that those who pay more should get more. Those who effectively pay zero tax – who get more from government than they pay(like most pensioners) – shouldn’t have the right to vote – while those who pay large amounts of tax should get multiple votes. The more tax you pay the more votes you get (perhaps on a sliding scale). What could be fairer? Go further. Grant the political franchise to corporations. After all the biggest taxpayers in Australia by a whooping margin are the banks followed by BHP – the big Australian.

    Until citizens define themselves in terms of citizenship and it’s held at a conscious level, then other arrangements become real possibilities. With ‘wealth’ being a likely criterion.

  5. Matters Not

    Re the Universal Basic Income (UBI). Seems likely to be a realistic policy option in the foreseeable future (particularly with the rapid expansion of technology designed to displace labour power) but not sure it’s the best option unless there are some refinements. Should those who already receive an (adequate) income get an additional income? In New Zealand, for instance, everyone gets the pension when they ‘need’ it or not. Yes – it might be payable to all – with all income subject to tax. Yes – taxing all has certain sociological and psychological benefits.

    How does one justify paying a UBI etc when there’s so much useful and desirable ‘work’ that needs to be done? Look at the state of the environment, the need in aged care, the level of ignorance in the wider community – here and abroad – etc. Wouldn’t it be better to have some form of ‘job guarantee’?

    (As an aside, it wasn’t too long ago that Japan had a job for everyone. In days of yore, everyone in the village had a role to fulfill. Everyone was made to feel that they were contributing. Very important for personal mental health and social well-being.)

    Technology itself isn’t the problem. Rather the ownership of the technology (who gets the profit) becomes the issue.

  6. Phil

    Ah Tories doncha just love em? AIM should review their vetting system, they are starting to sneak on here with the humans.

    What New England Cocky said covers it for me.

  7. Jack Cade

    Matters Not

    After spending 2 months in China two years ago, living with Chinese in Nanjing and mixing only with Chinese, I noted that there were no beggars, and every street had a cleaner. Not desirable work but more dignified than sleeping in rags and cardboard boxes in city streets. The streets were spotless, gardens and medians weed-free. All of them. For a communist society (which I doubt it is ) I was astonished at the way various religious buildings are maintained and attended.
    Just saying. Our/US MSM Is not a window on the world. Far from it.

  8. DrakeN

    Matters Not,

    There is that minor difficulty of definining “a job”.
    Defining and administering the “work that needs to be done” in the community is likewise a sticking point.
    Currently much of that “work that needs to be done” is catered for by volunteers and charities who relieve the mythical ‘taxpayer’ of a rather-too-large degree of responsibility.
    People of worth will inevitably find activities of community value in which to engage when they have sufficient means to do so – both in time and income. Our volunteer bodies depend on it.
    There are those who will ‘bludge’ on the system but great care always needs to be undertaken when making judgements as to who is or is not bludging on the system – especially when, from my experience, the majority of such parasitic persons exist in every stratum of the existing world of paid employment. I’ve worked in both private and public environments and my observations contribute to the opinion that the great majority of freeloaders are to be found in private industries.
    An UBI of adequate proportions can be supported quite simply be by revisions in the taxation system as well as by the reductions in requirements in health and social services.
    Actually, a tiny impost on all financial transactions – both those in cash and in kind – would cope quite well in supplying the government the revenue which it would require to cover all its expenditures and, as a bonus, lay the greatest burden on the money manipulators and commercial activists and less on the lower income stratum.

  9. Matters Not

    Jack Cade – good that you’ve spent some time in China. And so have I – and on more than one occasion. Thus we can agree that to call China a ‘communist society’ is a bit too much of a stretch – even with a radically different definition than the one currently in vogue. In my opinion, China is in a close race with (communist) Vietnam to see who can be leaders in the capitalist race on a daily basis – at least economically speaking. I should add that I have family who do business with a number of Asian nations as well

    And while certain parts of China are ‘well maintained’, there’s certain practices that cause many Westerners to raise their eyebrows.

  10. Phil

    ‘ And while certain parts of China are ‘well maintained’, there’s certain practices that cause many Westerners to raise their eyebrows.’

    Yea. Like making lots of money.

  11. Matters Not

    DrakeN, there are always definitional problems. My suggestion of being careful when going down the UBI track when there are potential pitfalls was at a high level of generality. MMT theorists, for example, argue for a ‘job guarantee’ for anyone who wants one and that has the added social and personal benefits that comes with ‘going to work’ which I’m interested in as well.

    Not saying that there are easy answers but we do need to start think about what to do with ‘surplus value’ coming from technological wealth and the like before it’s too late. Personally, I don’t see the financing of such activities as being a real problem. (Look at how easy it’s been to ‘find the money’ in this COVID crisis and how easy it is to pay for ‘war toys’ that we don’t needs etc. Here MMT is being proven workable – to say the least)

  12. Jack Cade

    ‘Like making lots of money.’
    And spreading it around…

  13. Phil

    ‘ ‘Like making lots of money.’
    And spreading it around…’

    Yep. They pull out of Oz and you can turn the lights off.

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