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Officials coy on JobSeeker wind back as one million expected to join queue

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The senior federal social services bureaucrat won’t say when the government might wind back its pandemic-inflated unemployment benefit payments.

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The Department of Social Services told a parliamentary committee it expected one million people to apply for JobSeeker due to coronavirus restrictions and impact.

The number of people on JobSeeker rose by about 500,000 from February to April, with another 400,000 expected to apply by September.

The estimates haven’t changed despite the government announcing its JobKeeper wage subsidy program since projections were made.

The government has doubled the JobSeeker payment – formerly known as Newstart – and expanded eligibility to income support for the period of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the department’s secretary Kathryn Campbell remained tight-lipped on whether the government would consider maintaining the higher rate after the pandemic is over.

She said all options were on the table but the department was in the early steps of creating advice for the government.

Campbell said the disability pension was ineligible for the boost because it was designed for people who were in the workforce.

Almost 600,000 businesses have applied for the JobKeeper wage subsidy – a payment of $1500 a fortnight – to support more than 3.3 million workers.

The figure is well under the estimated six million workers over a six-month period when the policy was costed at $130 billion.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the emergency measures have a set lifespan and a wind back will be needed to ensure the federal budget does not blow out further.

“Labor has serious concerns about the impact this will have on the hundreds of thousands of Australians whose jobs remain uncertain, and the impact this will have on the economy when or if the government suddenly snaps back the payment,” Labor senator Katy Gallagher said.

Officials from Services Australia, National Disability Insurance Agency, NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission officials will also present evidence to the committee.

Another committee is due to report on Thursday afternoon on the adequacy of income support and related payments.

The Senate committee began its work in July last year and has received hundreds of submissions, many of which are critical of the low level of payments.

The report is expected to look at what constitutes an acceptable standard of living in Australia, the structural causes of long-term unemployment, and the changing nature of work in Australia.

-with AAP

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