It costs more to be poor - it's time to Raise the Rate

Article by David Wark, Vinnies SA CEO

You may have read of comments made by Federal Minister for Social Services Anne Ruston, who recently suggested that an increase in Newstart payments would “give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money”.

The comments were made when addressing a Soroptimist International event in Murray Bridge, South Australia, on the theme of single mothers and poverty. Interestingly, Murray Bridge is a regional city experiencing high levels of unemployment and disadvantage, so this was a curious location in which to make such a comment.

Although Ms. Ruston has subsequently endeavoured to downplay her comments, suggesting that they were taken out of context, the fact remains that this Government steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that the current Newstart rate is totally inadequate for people to maintain even the semblance of a dignified existence.

With increases in rent, utilities and other costs of living, people receiving the Newstart allowance are barely surviving, let alone thriving. A lack of funds quickly results in an inability to participate in one’s own community or actively participate in the job market, because everything costs more when you don’t have any money. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a car, registration and insurance costs are higher if you can’t afford to pay annually.

If you can’t pay your bills on time, you can incur exorbitant late fees.

If you rely on a mobile phone, you are probably having to top up credit more regularly rather than commit to a long-term, more cost-effective plan.

If you don’t have a car and rely on public transport, you pay more per trip if you can’t afford to pay for a pass.

If you don’t have health insurance, preventative healthcare is unattainable, so treatable health conditions escalate and cost everyone more in the long run…

…and the list goes on.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s assertion that “if you have a go, you get a go” seems somewhat insincere when those people trying to “have a go” are met with barriers at every turn, not the least of which is the impossibility of living on approximately $40 per day and the impacts this has on one’s mental and physical well-being.

How can someone effectively job hunt when they don’t know how they are going to feed their children, stop their electricity from being disconnected, or pay their rent?

What we do agree with Senator Ruston on is, as quoted from the same event, “there’s a lot more that we as a government need to do”.

Raising Newstart is an obvious first step. 

According to a Deloitte report commissioned by the Australian Council of Social Services last year, “increasing these (Newstart) payments will boost wellbeing in regional communities doing it the toughest, lifting the incomes of people most in need, as well as delivering 12,000 new jobs.”

What are we waiting for?