It’s true Australia has done better than most countries when it comes to responding to the coronavirus crisis. But as we emerge from this pandemic, we’re at serious risk of slipping behind on one key measure.
Last week, I came across research from the IPPR, a British think tank, comparing UK social security to other OECD nations. The point was to show how far welfare support there lags behind other developed economies. And it does.
But looking closer, I found something else.
Did you know that before the Morrison Government was forced to introduce the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement, Australia had one of the lowest unemployment benefit rates in the OECD?
And did you know, that when the supplement ends in April, a low-paid worker in Australia will receive the third lowest support payment in the OECD?
I didn’t. I knew it was bad—but not this bad.
Australian Unions has repeatedly called on the Morrison Government to permanently increase the JobSeeker payment to include the original coronavirus supplement rate. This increase was introduced in April 2020, when the arrival of the virus sent jobs and the economy into freefall.
Raising the JobSeeker rate back then made economic sense. It also proved a literal lifesaver. Before the supplement was introduced, almost three quarters of people receiving JobSeeker skipped meals every week. During the pandemic, we heard moving stories from countless families who could now put food on the table consistently, and sometimes for the first time.
But no sooner was the rate raised, was it then threated to be stripped away by the Morrison Government. These gains have been put at risk by Scott Morrison’s pigheadedness, insisting that the increased, life-saving supplement be cut. At first, it was slashed by $300 a fortnight in September 2020, then by another $100 in this January. It will end entirely in April, unless the Government commits to raising the rate for good.
The consequences of these cuts are clear and have left many Australians in fear for their future in a post-pandemic world. In September, an Australian Council of Social Services survey showed that 80 per cent of people receiving payments said they would have to skip meals, and reduce their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. 47 per cent said they would be forced to ration medicines when the Morrison Government slashed the supplement for the first time. Mental health experts also warned about a potential spike in the suicide rate—a proven and well-known phenomenon in periods of high unemployment, and low welfare payments. For renters, the expiry of JobSeeker and JobKeeper, coinciding with an end to eviction and rent protections in some states, could mean thousands of Australians are thrown out of their homes.
This is a national shame and an international embarrassment.
From climate to welfare, Australia’s allies are leaving us behind. The European Union is pushing Australia to take more aggressive action on climate, with its plans for a carbon border tax likely to lock Australian manufacturers out of one of the biggest markets in the world. In the USA, political momentum is firmly behind increasing coronavirus stimulus payments and even an increase in the minimum wage—something unimaginable just months ago, yet now a clear possibility under President Joe Biden’s administration.
In both Europe and the USA, even while the pandemic rages, politicians are planning a better world than the one we had before COVID-19. In Australia, where COVID-19 has been largely contained, Scott Morrison plans to throw some of Australia’s most vulnerable people back into uncertainty and precarity, with life-threatening consequences.
While the rest of the world moves forward to a better world, the million-plus Australians relying on JobSeeker are set to pay for the Morrison Government’s politics and lack of ambition.