Australia

'You just hibernate': The struggle of living on Newstart’s $39 a day

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The Newstart allowance is $39 a day but the Greens are about to revive their campaign to raise the welfare payment

For two Australians at different stages in their life, the Newstart struggles are the same.

“I often have cereal as a meal for dinner. You just hibernate basically,” Judy Little told SBS News.

Judy Little looks at her bills in her Melbourne home
Judy Little looks at her bills in her Melbourne home (SBS)
SBS News

The 62-year-old Melbourne woman has been living on the Newstart social payment for nearly a year.

“I’m only surviving on less than $300 a week and it’s frightening to think anybody can live like that when you’ve got to pay the mortgage, your utilities and incidentals," she said.

Meanwhile, University of Canberra student Jarryd Rowley only recently started working at a supermarket and now has a slightly smaller Newstart allowance.

“It pays rent for the fortnight and doesn’t do much more than that,” he said.

“I had to eat $5 McDonald’s meals for about a week because I couldn’t afford anything else.”

Student Jarryd Rowley also struggled on Newstart
Student Jarryd Rowley also struggled on Newstart
SBS News

They are just two of the 720,000 Australians who receive the social security payment, which hasn’t increased since 1994.

Statistics from the Social Services Department show approximately 62 per cent of recipients spend more than two years on Newstart: Singles can receive up to $39 dollars a day. For couples, it's $71.

The Greens will restart a debate on Thursday on Thursday to increase the maximum rate for a single person to $75 week.
The Greens will restart a debate on Thursday on Thursday to increase the maximum rate for a single person to $75 week.
AAP

The Greens will restart a debate on Thursday on Thursday to increase the maximum rate for a single person by $75 a week.

“We pride ourselves in Australia on giving people a fair go but how can we give people a fair go when they’re living in poverty?” Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said.

“Poverty is clearly demonstrated as a barrier to employment.”

The Newstart payment is still being treated as transition payment, the senator said.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.
AAP

“It used to be in the old days that you could leave a job and walk into a new job the next day,” she said.

“Those days in this country are long gone. But, the approach to the way to we support people who don’t have employment is back in the 1950s.”

Labor has committed to a “root and branch review” of Newstart if it wins government at the next federal election.

A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics said increasing Newstart by $75 a week for singles would boost the economy by $4 billion and create about 12,000 jobs.

“Lifting these allowances would have both prosperity and fairness impact,” the September report said.

“The prosperity benefits fade over time, but the most compelling reasons to adopt this reform revolve more around fairness than they do around prosperity.”

But, the PM has been reluctant to lift it.

“We’re in a $10 billion deficit, so while that is the best result we’ve had in a decade, it’s still a deficit,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the ABC last month.

“It’s a very expensive undertaking and there is not the room in the Budget at this point to do that.”

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