The St Vincent de Paul Society welcomes initiatives in last night’s Federal Budget to improve the lives of disadvantaged Australians struggling to cope during the cost-of-living crisis.
‘The Budget recognises far too many Australians are living in poverty and despair and includes several initiatives that lay a foundation for a fairer Australia,’ National President Mr Mark Gaetani said.
‘However, the lack of substantial increases to JobSeeker and Commonwealth Rent Assistance condemns millions of Australians to continue to live in poverty and desperation,’ Mr Gaetani said.
Income Support and Cost-of-Living Measures
The Society is disappointed that the Government has not listened adequately to calls from the community, advocates and its own Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s to substantially increase JobSeeker.
‘The Budget’s increase to JobSeeker of around $2.85 a day is less than a loaf of bread and will do little to help income support recipients survive the current cost-of-living crisis,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘Instead, it condemns Australia’s 860,000 income support recipients and their families to continue to live in poverty.
‘This will be especially hard for low-income households in the context of a Budget surplus and the Government’s refusal to abolish Stage 3 tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefit the well-off,’ Mr Gaetani said.
Recent modelling by the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods, commissioned by the St Vincent de Paul Society, found an increase to JobSeeker of $150 per fortnight, along with a 50% increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, could be easily paid for through minor tax changes that would only marginally affect highest income-earners.
‘This research shows there are many ways Australia could fund a substantial boost to JobSeeker that lifts recipients out of poverty and restores their dignity, without affecting the budget bottom line,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘There is abundant wealth in this country to fund an income increase to those who most desperately need it.
The Society welcomes amendments to eligibility criteria for the Parenting Payment Single to single parents whose youngest child is aged up to 14, which will improve the lives of 57,000 single parents, most of whom are women, and their children.
‘This cohort is high among those seeking assistance from the Society and other emergency relief and food-relief organisations,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘This decision, coupled with last Friday’s commitment to abolish the punitive ParentsNext Program, demonstrates the Government is listening to women and advocates about the importance of freeing families from poverty,’ Mr Gaetani said.
The Society also welcomes electricity bill relief and funding to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households.
‘Electricity, and other utility bills, are a substantial contributor to the cost-of-living pressures on low-income households,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘We know that low-income households are more adversely affected by energy stress, with a greater proportion of their income going towards covering these costs,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘Help with meeting utility costs is one of the areas of greatest demand experienced by the Society,’ Mr Gaetani said.
Housing and Homelessness
The Society welcomes the 15% increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance but is concerned that it is insufficient to enable recipients to secure a home in the current out-of-control rental market.
‘The Government must commit to a review of Commonwealth Rent Assistance to ensure the program is fit for purpose and can achieve its objectives of helping vulnerable Australians put a roof over their
heads,’ Mr Gaetani said.
The Society welcomes the Government’s decision to lift the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation liability cap of the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator by $2 billion to $7.5 billion.
‘This will provide more low-cost loans to community housing providers and support around 7,000 more new social and affordable homes,’ Mr Gaetani said.
The amendment of NHFIC’s Investment Mandate to require the Corporation to allocate a minimum of 1,200 homes to be delivered in each state and territory within five years of the Housing Australia Future Fund commencing operation and the broadening of experience and perspectives on the National Housing and Affordability Council through the appointment of up to three additional members are also positive steps forward.
The Society welcomes the Government’s $3.5 billion investment in Medicare to improve access to bulk billing, particularly for Commonwealth concession card holders, pensioners and children under 16. This assistance is well targeted.
Closing the Gap
The investment of $111.7 million for a new one-year remote housing agreement with the Northern Territory Government and $100 million over two years for urgent work on housing and essential infrastructure on Northern Territory homelands are important initiatives to address chronic housing shortfalls in the Northern Territory.
The Government’s $150 million commitment to improve water security for regional and remote First Nations communities through the National Water Grid Fund and $20.8 million to undertake urgent repairs and capital works for Aboriginal Hostels Limited are also welcome.
Asylum Seekers and Refugees
The Society is disappointed that no commitment has been made to fully reinstate the funding of Status Resolution Support Services.
‘We acknowledge funding to continue merits review of unsuccessful protection visa applications, support for visa holders experiencing domestic and family violence and increased mental health support for culturally and linguistically diverse communities,’ Mr Gaetani said.
‘However, people awaiting determination of their refugee status are perhaps the most disadvantaged in this country, with almost no safety net to draw upon.’ Mr Gaetani said.
The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia has more than 45,000 members and volunteers, who work
hard to assist people in need and combat social injustice across Australia. Internationally, the Society
operates in 153 countries and has over 800,000 members.
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