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Welfare overhaul could give recipients a leg-up

  • April 04 2022
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Welfare overhaul could give recipients a leg-up

By Paul Hemsley
April 04 2022

Australia’s Centrelink recipients who’ve been doing it tough are in for a potentially easier time if the federal government pursues ambitious reforms that could provide sturdier safety nets.

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Welfare overhaul could give recipients a leg-up

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  • April 04 2022
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Australia’s Centrelink recipients who’ve been doing it tough are in for a potentially easier time if the federal government pursues ambitious reforms that could provide sturdier safety nets.

Centrelink

It’s the pre-election push from social policy advocates including one of Australia’s largest charities, St Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP), which has called on the federal government to adopt a transformative overhaul to welfare and taxation policy - modelled on a report published by the Australian National University (ANU) Centre for Social Research and Methods.

The report from ANU, entitled A Fairer Tax and Welfare System, advocates for a more just taxation system that would significantly reduce the risk of Jobseekers and pensioners from having to face a maze of taxation complexities that could potentially leave them further out-of-pocket.

It’s a huge problem for recipients who have continually felt the ire of punitive federal policies implemented through Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) using controversial schemes including ‘RoboDebt’  a scheme where people who owed money to welfare agencies received blunt debt notices or had their debts automatically snatched from their tax returns.

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The Coalition’s unprecedented snooping powers on Centrelink’s highly vulnerable customer base led to a high-profile class action in 2019, where the Commonwealth was ordered to cash out a settlement of more than $1.7 billion to about 430,000 people.

Having a gutful of the federal government’s aggressive pursuit on welfare recipients’ nickels and dimes, and hoping to prevent such punitive measures from being implemented again, SVDP has formally endorsed ANU’s report examining a set of three options that claims to help families and individuals at risk of deep poverty and financial stress.

According to the report, all three options can increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50 per cent.

The report’s options present ‘low’, ‘medium' and ‘high’ varieties that would significantly improve the income prospects for welfare recipients.

The ‘low’ option boosts JobSeeker benefits by $150 per fortnight; the ‘medium’ option increases JobSeeker benefits, Disability Support and Carer Pensions by $200 per fortnight, and increases the Parenting Payment (Single) to a new JobSeeker rate for single parents ($886 per fortnight).

While the ‘high’ option echoes the massive welfare hikes that the Morrison government offered to existing and new recipients at the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 (and have since been rolled back), increasing JobSeeker benefits by $436 per fortnight, Disability Support and Carer Pensions by $200 per fortnight, Parenting Payment to the new JobSeeker rate, and Family Tax Benefit Part A by 20 per cent ($40 per fortnight for children under 13 years).

Naturally, SVDP strongly supports the ‘high’ option as its national president, Claire Victory said it would help lift one million people out of poverty and “restore their dignity”, and potentially help them move towards re-entering the workforce.

”Far too many Australians are struggling to put food on the table, pay the rent in often unsuitable housing, and ensure that their children get the start in life they deserve. Increasing social security improves health, wellbeing and social outcomes, and also benefits the economy – so it’s an all-round win-win,” Ms Victory said.

In the days following the Annual Budget 2022-23 announcement handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on 29 March, Ms Victory was eager to highlight that the government’s $4.00 a day increase to JobSeeker will make “no impact” on poverty, lamenting that the Budget “contained no long-term solution to the nation’s chronic poverty”.

According to the report’s key author, associate professor Ben Phillips, the ANU modelling highlights strategies to reduce poverty without running up national debt or requiring anyone to make significant sacrifices.

“Our modelling shows you could make a massive difference to the lives of the bottom 20 per cent of income earners while only making a minimal change to the earnings of the top 20 per cent,’ Associate Professor Phillips said.

“Under our proposed changes, the highest income earners would still retire with very healthy superannuation savings and continue to benefit strongly from their other investments. But up to a million people would get their heads above the poverty line.”

SVDP said it will present its suite of election policy papers to sitting MPs and the half Senate, as well as other candidates once they are announced.

Welfare overhaul could give recipients a leg-up
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