Lee Thomas among top Australians calling for unemployment benefit to be lifted

Wednesday 1st May, 2013

ANF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas is one of nearly 50 prominent Australians uniting in a last-ditch effort before this month's budget to call on Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan to increase Newstart.

The group which also includes World Vision chief Tim Costello, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, ACTU president Ged Kearney, and Mission Australia chief executive Toby Hall, has sent a letter to every federal MP and senator saying the time for change was now, with the welfare payment having not increased in "real terms since Prime Minister Keating's"increase in 1994.

Others involved in the campaign are Father Frank Brennan, Julian Burnside QC and Eva Cox, among many more heads of leading national charities, unions and community welfare peak bodies, including ACOSS.

The Australian understands that a number of those who signed the letter are fearful that if Labor does not increase the payment in this month's budget, a new Abbott government would not embrace change.

In the letter, they say: "We . . . support the call for the Australian government to increase the single rate of Newstart and other allowances, and index these payments to wages, to address growing poverty in Australia".

"The Newstart base payment of $35 a day has not been increased in real terms since prime minister (Paul) Keating's increase in 1994.

"The rate is now so low it is unbearable to live on, and has become a major barrier to supporting people into paid work."

The letter also points to extensive evidence of the need for the increase: numerous reports from charities, parliamentary inquiries and others. "The call for an increase has the support of the Business Council of Australia, the Organisation for Economic Development, the ACTU and the government's own Henry tax review which recommended a $50 increase in 2009," it says.

"A recent ACOSS report showed one in eight people or 2.2 million Australians are living in poverty, including one in six (575,000) children.

"The single most important action the government must take to address the worsening levels of poverty across our nation is to increase the single rate payments of allowances and fix indexation arrangements in the budget.

ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said: "There is widespread concern . . . that keeping allowance payments like Newstart so low doesn't help people into work, but merely drives them further into misery."