In the Poverty in Australia report released last year, Australian Council of Social Service and the Social Policy Research Centre calculated that 2,265,000 people (12.8 per cent of the population) were living below the poverty line in 2010. This includes 575,000 children or 17.3 per cent, which by any measure is an indictment on a country as wealthy as Australia. The most alarming aspect is that this level of poverty is in spite of 20 years of strong growth that has made most Australians better off.
ACOSS has consistently pointed out that the problem lies with the very low rate of allowance payments such as Newstart, which have been frozen in real terms since 1994, while overall household living standards have increased by about a third.
This is precisely the reason why ACOSS, joined by business groups, unions and many economists, has been calling for Newstart to be lifted from the current level of $35 a day ($250 a week). The Business Council of Australia has said that the rate is so low that it’s become a barrier to work. Three separate Senate inquiries over the past two years have acknowledged that allowance payments are inadequate, confirming that the payments are not enough to meet the most basic costs such as housing, food, clothing and, importantly, basic job search costs.