The federal government is facing growing pressure from its backbench to increase the rate of the JobSeeker unemployment benefit in next month’s budget.
- An open letter signed by four government MPs urges the prime minister to act on the “structural injustice” of JobSeeker
- The Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee last week recommended a “substantial boost” to the rate of Jobseeker
- But the federal government looks set to reject the committee’s main recommendation in the budget
Labor backbenchers are among more than 300 signatories to an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, calling for an urgent boost to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments in the upcoming budget.
The letter was co-signed by academics, business leaders, economists, and politicians — including Labor MPs Alicia Payne, Louise Miller-Frost, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, Kate Thwaites and former ALP frontbenchers Jenny Macklin and Doug Cameron.
Others to have signed the letter, released by the Australian Council of Social Service, include independent senators, crossbench MPs and the federal Greens.
The current fortnightly JobSeeker payment for a single person with no children is $693.10.
The open letter said addressing the “structural injustice” of JobSeeker was long overdue.
“Right now, the rate of income support is so low that people are being forced to choose between paying their rent or buying enough food and medicine,” the letter stated.
“As a result, people experience chronic mental and physical health issues, they’re forced into homelessness and insecure housing, trapped with abusive partners, and locked out of paid work because they don’t have the money they need to retrain and re-enter the workforce.”
Last month, Ms Payne established a parliamentary friends group with Liberal MP Bridget Archer, dedicated to ending poverty. At the time, she dubbed the current rate of JobSeeker “inadequate”.
The open letter comes as the government faces public pressure from backbenchers to also raise a single parenting payment, which Labor cut when it was last in power.
Labor’s Kate Thwaites on Monday told the ABC the payment was failing sole-parent families and she hoped it would be corrected in the May 9 budget.
‘Irresponsible’ for government not to act, ACOSS says
Last week, a group tasked by the federal government with examining income support payments recommended a substantial increase in the base rate of the JobSeeker payment.
The government agreed to set up the inquiry as part of a deal brokered with independent senator David Pocock in return for his support for the government’s industrial relations reforms.
The Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee labelled the current unemployment benefit as “seriously inadequate” and said lifting the rate from $50 a day to around $68 should be the government’s “first priority”.
It’s a move that would cost the federal government $24 billion over four years.
The government is expected to adopt some of the committee’s 37 recommendations but is set to reject the report’s main recommendation to lift the rate, citing existing pressures on the budget.
The government has promised there will be measures in the budget next month to address disadvantage, including energy bill price relief.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said people on the lowest incomes cannot afford to wait any longer.
“Federal budgets are always about choices, and the federal government has a very clear choice,” she said.
“Will it put the needs of people on the lowest incomes, those facing the most severe financial deprivation, at the heart of this budget or will it continue to deliver very generous, overly generous, irresponsible tax cuts for those on the highest incomes?”
In March 2023, research from Australian Council of Social Service found that seven in 10 people on income support were eating less or reporting difficulty getting medicine or care.
“We have over a million people who are facing severe financial deprivation,” Ms Goldie said.
“It will be irresponsible for the federal government to turn its back on the needs of people in the very lowest incomes in the country.”