By Joe Montero
It is a good thing that a tide of politicians, academics and Business leaders have come together to call the government to substantially increase the Jobseeker rate. This includes a swag of Labor Backbenchers who are not happy with the performance of the Albanese government on this score. They have put their names an open letter organised by the Australian Council of Social; Service (ACOSS).
This hasn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a reflection of the growing disquiet across the Australian community. Most families have members have been forced to live on the current pittance of $50 a day to live on. Add the onward rising cost of living for everyone.
The reality of being out of work and the miserable Jobseeker payment can no longer be hidden so well. Furthermore, Albanese went to the election promising “no one held back, no one left behind.” This promise is not likely to be kept, for it would mean doubling the present rate. The government, arguing that it can’t afford it and has no appetite for doing this.
“The rate of income support is so low that people are being forced to choose between paying their rent or buying enough food and medicine,’ the letter says, and it goes on to point out that ”as a result, people experience chronic mental and physical health issues, they’re forced into homelessness and insecure housing, trapped with abusive partners, locked out of paid work because they don’t have the money to retrain and re-enter the workforce.”
On 18 April, the government released its Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee report, which pointed out how inadequate the social \security net is and made 37 recommendations. Raising the jobseeker and youth allowances was cited as the immediate need.
Governments, of course, must choose priorities on what they spend on. The problem is much less about affordability than about setting the right priorities. When the sky is the limit for some things and protecting the most vulnerable in our community, is considered far less important, the sense of what our society should be is turned upside down. Most would agree that the rights to fairness and participation should be at the top.
This isn’t the way it is though. governments in Australia have long held different priorities, and often blamed the unemployed and others for their ow poverty. Not so surprising when politicians often sit on government benches thanks to patronage from the big end of town.
Blame does not fall on the present government, although it could be doing more to reverse this legacy. This is not going to happen without making the break from neoliberal orthodoxy and the pretence that the market is the best allocator of resources, so long as the government stays out of the economy. Neoliberalism is based on government assistance to investors and the corporate world by taking away from wage earners and those on social security, and justifies it, by promising the trickle down effect.
There has not yet been any real break from this ideology, despite even being in practice a failure, even on its own terms. In fact, neoliberalism is itself the result of the failure of the market and should be rejected.
The budget is only weeks away. This is a good time to start turning the priorities around. Unfortunately, there is little sign of this happening, and the onus must fall back on the Australian community insisting on the change. Faith must not be pinned on merely begging government to act. There must be a move towards other actions that will eventually force a breakthrough.