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SA councils say higher Centrelink JobSeeker rate good for recipients, economy

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UPDATED: Five northern suburb councils have joined forces with social justice groups to push for a permanent increase to the JobSeeker allowance, arguing it would benefit not just welfare recipients but stimulate local economies and employment.

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Council leaders from Playford, Salisbury, Port Adelaide Enfield, Gawler and Prospect will this afternoon speak alongside social service organisations the Anti-Poverty Network and St Vincent de Paul at a community forum in Salisbury to drive support for a permanent increase to the JobSeeker payment.

It follows comments by Social Services Minister Anne Ruston last month indicating the coronavirus supplement could be extended into 2021 but an announcement of a permanent increase to the JobSeeker rate was unlikely before the end of the year.

Figures from the Department of Social Services show in September 118,611 South Australians were receiving JobSeeker and Youth Allowance payments, while more than 1.56 million Australians were receiving the payments.

Without the coronavirus supplement, the JobSeeker payment would return to its pre-pandemic rate of an average $550 a fortnight or $40 a day.

The coronavirus supplement is currently $250 a fortnight, having shrunk in September from $550 at the height of the pandemic. It’s paid on top of the $565 fortnightly JobSeeker payment.

The coronavirus supplement was not applied to aged or disability pensions or carer allowances.

Welfare advocates have long called for the JobSeeker unemployment benefit, previously known as Newstart, to be boosted after it had barely budged for more than 25 years prior to the pandemic.

Anti-Poverty Network SA spokesperson Eileen Darley said the advocacy group wanted the JobSeeker rate to be made $550 a week permanently.

“The recent and devastating $300 a fortnight cut has caused huge stress for people who, even with the full supplement, were only just surviving,” Darley said.

“It has meant people have had to cut back on fresh food, medicines, and are finding it harder to cover their rent and bills.

“Any cuts will not only make life harder for those who are already not coping, but will also do further damage to our fragile economic state.

“To do this, when we know there are so few job vacancies at the moment, and 1.6 million people on JobSeeker, is cruel and maddening.”

Even with the current Covid supplement, data from The Australia Institute shows as of September more than 650,000 Australians, including 120,000 children were pushed into poverty.

In a statement St Vincent, de Paul SA Manager of Homelessness Services Tony Roach said permanently raising the rate was “a golden opportunity to improve the lives of millions of Australians” who were living below the poverty line.

“Income inequality in Australia is higher than the OECD average, with more than one in eight adults and more than one in six children living in poverty,” Roach said.

“Even prior to the pandemic, poverty and inequality in Australia were entrenched.”

Adelaide’s northern suburbs have some of the State’s highest number of JobSeeker recipients.

Salisbury Mayor Gillian Aldridge said without a permanent rate raise the north would be hard hit.

Aldridge told InDaily not only were a large portion of 143,000 people living in the city reliant on the welfare payments, but without an increase to the allowance the local economy would be impacted.

“Being in local government myself, I understand the cost of that (increase),” she said.

“But really the cost going back into the community means more people are employed and more money comes to those small shop owners where people are spending money and therefore are able to employ more people.

“We want to see that those people in Salisbury are looked after.”

Aldridge labelled the previous rate a “disgrace” and said there was “no way anyone can live on that with dignity”.

According to figures from the City of Salisbury in the 12 months to September 2020, the number of JobSeeker and Youth Allowance recipients increased by 5291, from 7673 to 12,964.

The increase followed a swathe of job losses across South Australia due to pandemic restrictions.

Anglicare’s Jobs Availability Snapshot report released last month found an average of eight people were competing for each position at their skill level nationally, with people in regional areas at a greater disadvantage.

A Deloitte Access Economics report, funded by the Australian Council of Social Services, found the coronavirus supplement provided “a supercharged boost to the economy” during the pandemic-induced recession.

The report, which was released in September, said if the JobSeeker payment returned to its pre-pandemic rate of $40 a day, Salisbury council would lose an estimated 1578 full-time jobs and $230 million in income between 2021-22.

It found Port Adelaide Enfield Council would lose 1231 full-time jobs and $180 million in income while Playford would be hit with 1350 jobs losses and $197 million in income.

Aldridge urged the Federal Government to make a permanent rate increase announcement before January 1.

“We’re talking about thousands of jobs being lost if its continuously cut,” she said.

“If you think about doing it, go and try and live on it yourself, don’t sit in an office and think that’s the way to go.”

Fellow SA Mayor Glenn Docherty said the City of Playford also supported a rate rise and had done “for many years”.

“A reduction in the current JobSeeker payment amount will see more stress placed on those looking for work in our community,” Docherty said.

“The increase in Jobseeker payment during COVID19 has allowed those on the payment to catch up on bills, put more food on the table and access tools they have been unavailable to afford previously to assist in looking for work.

“Our council supports an increase in the payment as it is likely to increase the potential for recipients to invest in themselves in terms of skills and learning that will also increase future employment opportunities, and support greater physical and mental health.”

SA Treasurer Rob Lucas was this morning asked if he was concerned about the impact on the northern suburbs communities’ if the low-income payments were to revert to their original amounts.

He said there had been a number of concerns across the country about what would happen when the coronavirus supplement stopped.

“We’re obviously supportive of continued acknowledgement if there are ongoing problems and issues for either areas, industries, sectors or others for ongoing support from Federal, State and frankly local governments,” Lucas said.

“We’ll be announcing a massive increase in public sector investment in next Tuesday’s budget and in relation to local government we’ve already announced a massive $200 million joint potential investment in councils and between state government.

“So if those councils are interested they can pony up, if I can use a colloquial expression, put some money in and together with the State Government funding help provide jobs and therefore income to many of their constituents.”

InDaily contacted Minister Ruston’s office for comment.

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