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Skipping meals due to low Centrelink JobSeeker payments a 'scandal': Anglicare

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Anglicare Australia has called for a permanent lift to JobSeeker payments, saying a return to the old pre-pandemic level of unemployment payment will see some recipients trying to live on $7 a day after paying rent.

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A survey by Anglicare Australia found the temporary increases during the COVID-19 pandemic are helping people to eat properly.

JobSeeker, formally known as Newstart, is being boosted by the temporary coronavirus supplement, but that ends in March.

The supplement was $550 a fortnight at the start of the pandemic, but it has shrunk to $250. It will be further reduced to $150 per fortnight from January 1 subject to the passage of legislation.

More than one million Australians receive JobSeeker, with the number boosted dramatically by coronavirus restrictions shutting or hitting businesses across the country.

Previously, JobSeeker was worth about $40 a day – a rate that has not increased in real terms for decades.

Before the supplement, the survey released on Tuesday found almost three quarters of people on the dole skipped meals every week, with most missing an average of three to four meals over seven days.

Few people (13 per cent) who were surveyed between July and November thought their Centrelink obligations to get the dole were helping them find paid work.

Nearly four in five thought they were pointless, while around three quarters want to do Centrelink activities that are fair and lead to work.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the survey shows there needs to be an overhaul of the system and the rate of JobSeeker should be raised for good.

“It should be a scandal that so many people were forced to skip meals so often,” she said.

“Some people we surveyed were couch surfing and skipping meals every day. With so little money, they simply had no choice.”

Chambers said raising the rate for good will stop condemning these Australians and their children to a life of poverty.

The survey also shows there is a need to overhaul a system that isn’t leading to work.

“Work for the Dole and Jobactive have repeatedly been shown to fail – and they waste millions of dollars a year,” Chambers said.

“Yet most people in our survey actually want to do activities that matter, and that lead them into work. Instead they are being forced into pointless busywork.”

Meanwhile, the government has a Senate battle on its hands over plans to make the cashless welfare card permanent in its current trial areas and to move more than 20,000 people in the Northern Territory to the system.

The deciding vote is expected to be from independent senator Rex Patrick, who has been visiting affected areas to understand views of the card on the ground.

The underpinning bill narrowly made its way through the lower house on Monday evening with 62 votes to 61.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer – who has publicly rebuked the policy – chose not to vote.

The cards freeze the majority of welfare payments so the money can’t be withdrawn for cash or spent on items the government deems unessential, in a bid to stop spending on alcohol, gambling and drugs.

If the bill does not pass the current trials in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland will end on December 31.

-with AAP
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