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Lift Newstart payment, I struggle to survive on $211,000: Joyce

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Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says his own struggles to make ends meet on a $200,000-plus parliamentary salary inspired him to break ranks and call for a rise in welfare payments for job-seekers.

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Joyce, a father of six, is supporting his estranged wife and their youngest daughter, who’s in boarding school, as well as his current partner Vikki Campion and their two young sons.

The New England MP, who earns about $211,000 a year, says he’s turning the heater off at night, killing his own meat, not going out for dinner and buying cheap groceries.

“It’s not that I’m not getting money, it’s just that it’s spread so thin,” he told The Courier-Mail on Monday.

“It’s just a great exercise in humility, going from deputy prime minister to watching every dollar you get.”

Joyce has stressed he is not “skint”, but his daily cup of coffee is cause for excitement.

“So the big thrill of the day to be honest is a cup of coffee. We (he and Vikki) rarely if ever go out for dinner.”

Joyce has recently joined calls for an increase of the Newstart unemployment benefit, which hasn’t risen beyond inflation since the mid-1990s, in the face of federal government opposition.

The payment is $555.70 a fortnight for a single person without children, or $40 a day.

“I am working out on a very, very good salary how you make two ends when you’re supporting basically two families,” he told Seven’s Sunrise program.

“God knows how someone on $280 a week ever gets by; I don’t know how they do it. It would be near impossible.”

Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon said the sentiment is proof people are finding it hard to get by on Newstart under the coalition government.

“Whatever the cause of Barnaby’s epiphany, it is really good he has now acknowledged that after six years under this government, people are doing it very, very tough,” he said.

One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson had harsher words for the MP, saying many people would want to be earning his wage.

“What a ridiculous stupid way to explain himself,” she told Nine’s Today program.

Joyce’s comments came after an Australian Council of Social Service survey found people on the dole are being forced to skip meals, go without heating during winter, and reduce showering to just once a week to save money.

ACOSS is pushing to increase the Newstart payment by at least $75 a week.

The survey of 489 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance found more than four out of five (84 per cent) respondents skipped meals to save money, and about 44 per cent went without more than five meals a week.

Two-thirds could not afford to use heating during winter, while 68 per cent only had enough money to buy second-hand clothes.

More than half had less than $100 left per week after housing costs.

The federal government has refused to consider an increase to Newstart, despite repeated calls from ACOSS, business groups, unions and economists.

Labor, the Greens, crossbench politicians, coalition backbenchers and even former Liberal prime minister John Howard have also called for a rise.

Aside from twice yearly adjustments to Newstart in line with inflation, it has not seen a real increase for 25 years.

“People can’t afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, dental care or internet access, which severely hampers their chances of getting a job,” said ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie.

“Especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking.”

The single rate of Newstart is $282 per week, which ACOSS says is more than $100 below the poverty line and less than 40 per cent of the minium wage.

Labor and the Greens joined forces last week to initiate a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart and other welfare payments, which is due to report back next year.

-with AAP

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