By Ben Wilson
The contrast between Centrelink’s move to ordering some of those out of work to pay back $32 million in JobKeeper payments and an Anglicare poll that found 77 percent of Australians, perfectly shows the gulf between the elite and the rest of us.
More than 11,000 debt letters were sent out by Centrelink, claiming that those who got them had been overpaid and must pay this back. This was revealed in answers to questions in the Senate by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. Two things have been ignored.
But with the new lockdowns, debt repayments are supposed to be on a moratorium. What’s going on?
This is a sign of the times and Robodebt seems to be back in a new guise.
JobKeeper is a payment made to employers, who are then supposed to pass it onto their workers. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. The individual worker does not make the application. But they are obliged to report income to Centrelink. Here comes the second point. The reporting system is terribly confusing, and it is hardly surprising that mistakes are made.
There is no sympathy from the government and its Centrelink arm.
Contrast this with those businesses that did not use the payment to support their workers or failed to properly demonstrate the loss of revenue standard. In short, they pocketed JobKeeper money they were not entitled to. The government has faced pressure form the public to do something about this. To date, it has refused to do any such thing.
The discrepancy is glaringly obvious. There is a class divide. Although it must be recognised that many small businesses have been doing it tough during the pandemic, there are those major players that have been doing much better.
When the public learned that one company, Harvey Norman, had taken advantage of JobKeeper, as its revenue and profit soared, there was a public outcry. People have called for the list of companies that benefited to be made public. Last week, this was blocked in the parliament.
It turns out that so long as you are wealthy enough and have the connections, even illegal acts are protected.
Anglicare has just released the result of a survey. Out of those who participated, 77 percent said they supported the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. Only 3 percent strongly opposed it. While there may be some debate about the accuracy of the result, there is a tide of support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income.
Behind this is that income support during the lockdowns has proved to benefit both those receiving the support and the economy. It showed that a little generosity from government will not make the sky fall in. There is also a greater awareness of the reality that meeting the costs of living is getting harder, and growing support for an income adequate to meet a basic standard of living as a fundamental right for everyone. Most now know someone who is experiencing real poverty.
All Centrelink payments are far too low to meet this right.
There is also a growing proportion of the workforce not earning enough to keep them out of poverty.
Along with an awareness that so many are in trouble, there is growing dismay over how no expense is too much in the government’s eyes, if it goes to support its big business mates. The double standard is not going unnoticed.
A Universal Basic Income based on what is needed is to ensure a basic and acceptable standard of living, would ensure that no-one gets left behind.
Anglicare is one of the organisations dealing with poverty coming in behind the idea.
There is a point of caution that should be out there. That is, who will pay for a Universal Basic Income? If taxpayers bear the cost, it will be wage earners that will suffer the burden, and his will have its own effect on lowering living standards. It would then be counterproductive.
A Universal Basic Income must come in with reform to make the taxation system far more progressive. Those who can afford to, must bear a bigger burden. Only then, can the system be made fair.