‘Starvation payments’: jobseeker recipients say new rate puts a normal life out of reach | Unemployment

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Twenty-eight-year-old Gene Saraçi, who has been unemployed for four years, says he was “heartbroken” listening to Scott Morrison explain the government’s decision to increase jobseeker payments by just $3.57 a day.

“It just definitely demonstrates that this government has absolutely no concern or compassion towards people that are unemployed or underemployed.

“It effectively reduces me to a situation where I don’t see much hope in terms of financial independence and self-sustainability.”

Saraçi, who describes himself as a freelance photographer, said he had just moved into a home in Geelong, Victoria prior to the pandemic, after being homeless for about a year. The pandemic supplement, which was $550 a fortnight before it was reduced to $150 this year, allowed him to set up his home.

“I was able to buy furniture, I was able to lift my quality of life. It was just the basic minimum standard that we expect and are entitled to as citizens.

“I felt accepted, and that there was some hope. But now it feels like I’ve been set back years in progress because they’ve decided, well, too bad so sad.

“It’s dehumanising. It feels like I’m not welcome or included in this society for the pure fact that I am not economically viable enough to be a part of it.”

The government’s modest increase, taking the base rate to $620.80 a fortnight, or $44.35 a day, will still be less than the current jobseeker payment of $765 a week, which includes a $150 pandemic supplement.

Morrison said on Tuesday ending the coronavirus supplement at the end of March was a necessary change as the vaccination program begins rolling out.

The prime minister said the increased benefit would lift the rate to 41.2% of the national minimum wage, which would keep the jobseeker payment below the poverty line.

He described the new jobseeker rate as fulfilling a “social contract” with the Australian people – an idea Saraçi balked at.

“It absolutely crushes me to see the prime minister brag on about the social contract they hold with Australians, whilst also neglecting their end of the deal.”

Joshua Badge, an academic and writer based in Melbourne, told the Guardian they actually decided not to stay on the jobseeker program late last year, when their partner returned to work, as the rate was too low.

“The way that the government calculates that meant that my payment was effectively wiped out. So I received as little as $11 a fortnight.”

Badge said Tuesday’s announcement was a paltry sum when compared to the amount necessary to alleviate poverty around the country.

“What is someone supposed to do with an extra $3 a day? It wouldn’t even pay for a bottle of water in the supermarket, let alone pay for the meals you are skipping.

Badge said the unemployment benefits they received prior to the pandemic had left them “miserable” and unable to live the life they wanted.

“Those payments were starvation payments.

“It was just miserable, it’s not really living in the way most people imagine. You’d constantly have to say no to yourself.”

Mike Sadler, 60, is studying to be a teacher having been on unemployment benefits for several years due to a severe back injury.

He told the Guardian he “felt the pit of my stomach dropping” during Tuesday’s press conference.

“It makes me feel like a failure, there’s just a limit to what I can do.”

Sadler said losing the pandemic supplement would mean he and his family would return to a more difficult life.

“We go back to hunker in the bunker mode.

“We moved to Wagga, and what that meant was that if we sat at home, watched the telly, no Netflix, we could just exist. If nothing went wrong, we were fine. I could put food on the table.

“But that’s it. As soon as anything went wrong, or any bill came along, we were stuffed. It’s a constant feeling of dread, like you’re under the hammer.”

Avery Howard, a student who also receives the youth allowance payment, said they were furious about the modest increase.

“Just hearing what they had to say, and the vitriol they have for the unemployed, along with hearing about this cut, just left me speechless.

“It’ll make it more difficult to buy groceries. That is where most of my money will now go. It’s already difficult, but it just will make it more difficult. I have no way of saving up for anything.

“I’ll continue to just barely scrape by. It will be incredibly difficult for me, it’s basically a kick in the face when you’re already down.

“They had the opportunity to give us the dignity that we deserve, and yet they continue to push us further and then tell us it’s our fault because we’re not finding work.”

Howard said the coronavirus supplement introduced last year had allowed them to live a relatively normal life, able to afford health bills and fresh vegetables.

“It sort of allowed me to feel dignity, it helped in some ways with my self-worth, because I didn’t have to keep worrying about every dollar and cent and where everything was going to.

“It feels like the government just isn’t there for us.”

Kristin O’Connell, spokesperson for the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU), said the new rate was not enough to lift people out of poverty.

“This cut means people can’t eat regularly, it means people can’t secure a place to live, it means people will go years without appropriate healthcare, and these are absolutely basics.

“The government is forcing people to live in poverty, and they do not have to do this. They have shown they can lift millions of people out of poverty overnight.”

The AUWU had been advocating for a lift in the unemployment benefit to above the poverty line, which roughly translates to $80 a day.

“It’s a simple choice for the government, to allow us to live with dignity and to keep everyone above the poverty line.”



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