Big twist in Centrelink cash boost debacle

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Hundreds of thousands of Australians could be about to score an increase to their welfare payments in Tuesday’s federal budget.

In recent days, reports emerged that the budget would likely include an increase of $3.70 a day to JobSeeker payments in an attempt to ease cost of living pressures – however, it was expected that increase would be for over 55s only.

Under the previously-reported change, the JobSeeker rate would be bumped up from its current rate of just under $50 a day for around 200,000 long-term unemployed Aussies over the age of 55, meaning more than 680,000 other jobseekers would have received nothing.

That sparked significant backlash from welfare activists and politicians – including some Labor MPs – who argued that a lift in benefits should apply to all groups.

Now, Sky News Political Editor Andrew Clennell has claimed that the budget would include an increase in JobSeeker payments “across the board” of up to $40 a fortnight, which would be “ratified” in an Expenditure Review Committee meeting.

“I am told the JobSeeker increase could be up to $40 a fortnight,” Mr Clennell said.

“To deliver a surplus and not deliver such assistance when JobSeeker is just $49 a day would have really angered the Labor base.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers will hand down the budget on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin OllmanTreasurer Jim Chalmers will hand down the budget on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) CEO Cassandra Goldie previously claimed that limiting the increase to over 55s meant “around four in five people struggling to survive on the woefully inadequate JobSeeker and related payments would be left behind”.

Instead, ACOSS is pushing for all social payments to be raised to $76 per day.

“We estimate that at least two-thirds of people who are long-term unemployed would not benefit from … speculation about an increase only being proposed for those over 55,” Dr Goldie said.

“Until JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments are substantially increased for all, we will continue to see people going without food and essential medication as well as being unable to afford to keep a roof over their head.”

Grattan Institute chief executive officer Danielle Wood also said while she understood the federal government’s desire to keep any welfare payment increases “modest”, splitting welfare payments based on age was a mistake.

Advocates say JobSeeker should be raised for everyone. Picture: Glenn HampsonAdvocates say JobSeeker should be raised for everyone. Picture: Glenn Hampson

“I do think it is a bit of a slippery slope, this division of people on those payments,” she told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Equally, people under 55 are really struggling to get by.”

An interim report tabled by the Greens-chaired Senate Community Affairs References Committee this month found that urgent government action on poverty for all demographics was needed.

“When we have millions of Australians on starvation-payments, people trying to escape domestic violence, young people struggling with their mental health and dropping out of uni because they can’t afford it, and thousands of people who can’t afford food as well as their medicine, it’s hard to understand how the Labor Government can morally justify not raising income support,” Greens senator and committee chair Janet Rice said.

“If Labor does choose to raise the rate of JobSeeker for people over 55, that’s a welcome step. But we don’t accept that we can’t afford to raise the rate for everyone.

Australia is in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Picture: iStockAustralia is in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Picture: iStock

The Greens recommended that the base rate of JobSeeker and other support payments increase to $88 a day, regardless of age.

Dr Chalmers recently claimed “expert advice” showed the group “that’s most likely to be long-term unemployed are people over 55” – a cohort that is “dominated by women”.

“The JobSeeker payment already makes a distinction for people closer to the aged payment,” Dr Chalmers said last week.

“That’s in recognition that it is harder to find a new job at the end of your working life.

“The group that is most likely to be long-term unemployed are people over 55, [and] that group is dominated by women.”

He also acknowledged that it was “really important we get the JobSeeker payment right” but said “we shouldn’t see the task ahead as one that is exclusively about the adequacy of the payments”.

“You’ll see on budget night what we intend to do about this,” he said.

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“We will be very conscious of the pressure of younger Australians in the budget … the reason I’ve cautioned against assuming is because we should look at what the government announces … Tuesday night in its entirety.

“There are pressures coming from a range of sources on Australians, young and old.”

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