Advocates urge federal government to raise JobSeeker rate, saying 'millions are facing agonising decisions'

By SBS Australia

Australia's peak social services group is again urging the federal government to raise the long-term rate of JobSeeker, with the payment set to drop back to $40 a day in April.

The unemployment support is currently being boosted by $150 a fortnight but the higher rate is slated to finish on 31 March.

Services Australia's website reads: "From 1 April 2021, your payment will change to the normal JobSeeker payment rate for your situation".

According to a payment rate chart on the government agency's website, that means single Australians with no children will receive $565.70 per fortnight.

The Australian Council of Social Service's senior advisor Charmaine Crowe said people were struggling on the payment, even with the $150 fortnightly increase.

She applauded the government for increasing JobSeeker last year, at the height of widespread coronavirus lockdowns.

The payment was initially boosted by $550 each fortnight.

"If the payment wasn't enough then, it won't be enough this coming April," Ms Crowe told AAP.

"Millions are facing agonising decisions like whether they will be able to afford to stay in their homes, and which essential items - like food, bills or medicine - they will have to cut back on even further.

"The government must permanently increase the base rate of JobSeeker by at least $25 a day more than the old Newstart rate, so that people can cover the basics and rebuild their lives."

The government argues against raising the long-term rate because its policy focus is to get people into work.

The federal opposition, welfare and business groups - as well as former Liberal prime minister John Howard - have previously called for the $40-a-day rate to be increased.

Asked about JobSeeker payment rates from April, a spokeswoman from the Department of Social Services said the current increased figure was a temporary measure.

"The coronavirus supplement is designed to provide temporary, short-term financial assistance to help individuals and families in these uncertain times, and address the economic impacts of COVID-19," she said in a statement to AAP.

JobKeeper wage subsidies are also set to expire in March, which could see more Australians move on to JobSeeker if businesses cannot continue employing them without government support.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ruled out extending the program.

 

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