MOST Australians – in fact roughly two-thirds of us, support an increase in this most basic of allowances provided by government that the roughly $570 per fortnight Newstart payment provided to eligible Australians.
In fact it would seem to be the Australian thing to do, the fair thing to do, to increase the amount provided by Newstart to better reflect the cost of living in today’s modern society.
It’s been well documented that the Newstart allowance has failed to keep pace with the cost of living for almost 25 years, and that welfare agencies who are at the coalface say a considerable portion of the people they assist are recipients of Newstart or Youth Allowance.
The government may well argue it cannot afford to increase benefits like Newstart or the Youth Allowance, or that recipients are likely to be accessing additional sources of federal government support, a situation that can mask how much support some Australians actually receive from their government.
But given the overwhelming support for change, the government cannot afford to be tone deaf on this issue.
Think back to the steadfast refusals to even entertain the thought of a Royal Commission into the banking sector, which will surely haunt the government in the lead up to next year’s expected federal elections.
The ongoing response to each and every survey into Newstart is constant – Australians expect their government to do more for what they consider to be a vulnerable group of people.
And a government that is big on selling tax cuts to working Australians and cuts to company tax rates is struggling to convince ordinary Australians that these revisions should not be expanded to include those on the Newstart benefit.
Simply put, the annual minimum wage review needs to be expanded to at least consider the annual review of Newstart.
A city such as Bendigo is extremely fortunate to have a strong tertiary education sector, serving the educational needs of thousands of students who are enrolled at a number of institutions.
Many of these students would be feeling the Newstart and Youth Allowance squeeze, a circumstance not helped by a tight jobs market, and a just as tight rental market.
Equally, regional students who relocate to larger cities to pursue their university studies, are often faced with the pressures of a much higher cost of living that places additional stresses upon them and their families.
And while it is good news that the federal government has accepted the recommendations of a major review of education in regional Australia, more work needs to be done by all three tiers of government to address the needs of the more than 400,000 students from regional Australia.
While it’s true to say that Newstart, and other similar allowances, exists to provide a basic safety net for people looking for work who are on welfare, the stagnant nature of this most basic of allowances is difficult to accept when the cost of living continues to rise.
The criteria to access some benefits has also been revised, and this is a good start, especially for regional students and their families.
For its part, the government says most Newstart recipients transition into employment within 12 months, and that employment growth is helping address the issue.
The government insists that the best form of welfare is a job, but in the eyes of many struggling students in regional communities such as Bendigo, that’s far easier said than done.