Raise The Rate This Anti-Poverty Week

Vinnies is joining with other key community service organisations to call for a raise to Newstart and Youth Allowance this Anti-Poverty Week.

The call to raise the rate has also been backed by prominent voices in Australian business, including KPMG, the Business Council of Australia, and the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia.

Newstart has not been increased in real terms for 25 years and most people receiving this payment are living below the poverty line.

“Our social security system is meant to be a solution to poverty, not a cause of it,” said Jack de Groot, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

“Vinnies is calling on the Government to raise the rate so that people can focus on finding employment, recovering from illness, or undertaking study and training – rather than having to stress over the basics like putting food on the table and keeping the lights on.”

Pam Markiewicz is one of almost 20,800 people on Newstart who Vinnies NSW supported last financial year. At 64, she is overlooked by potential employers but too young to receive the Age Pension. She has experienced homelessness while relying on Newstart, spending a period sleeping on friends’ couches.

Ms Markiewicz is now living in private rental accommodation in outer Sydney, but after spending $600 per fortnight on rent (with the help of rent assistance), she has just $154 left to cover food, electricity, transport and other costs. She regularly skips meals and when she does eat, it’s usually cheap porridge.

“If Newstart were raised, I could actually start living like a human being and a grandmother,” Ms Markiewicz said. “I could buy fruit and veggies, and have a balanced diet to address my health problems. I could have my grandchildren over for a biscuit and buy them birthday presents.

“It’s time the government realised that we’re not bums. Being on Newstart is very degrading. I’m treated like a bit of a scumbag, like I’m a drain on the government.

“When you’re on Newstart, you’re pushed into a corner and that’s where you stay.”

While older people like Ms Markiewicz are forced to languish on Newstart because employers won’t give them a chance, many young people feel the same way. ABS data shows there is only one job available for every eight people seeking paid work or more hours.

“We regularly speak with qualified and capable young people who are applying for dozens of jobs, but getting knocked back for lack of experience,” Mr de Groot said.

“Meanwhile, those who are working hard to earn qualifications are compromised in their studies because they’re unable to afford transport to and from uni or TAFE, their housing situation is insecure, and they’re often learning on an empty stomach.”

Mr de Groot added: “The inadequacy of Newstart and Youth Allowance affects people of all ages and these payments need to be raised across the board. Recently we’ve helped people aged from their teens to their sixties who were struggling to get by on these meagre support payments. It’s clear that the failure to provide a decent social security system is affecting multiple generations.”

Anti-Poverty Week runs 13-19 October 2019.