Balancing the books – will the Treasurer raise JobSeeker?

For most Australians, to say that the last three years have been tough – particularly on the health and finance fronts – would be an understatement of mammoth proportions. But if the latest indications from Treasurer Jim Chalmers are correct, there may finally be some good economic news on the horizon for those receiving JobSeeker.

Good financial news means different things to different people, of course. In this case, the signals Dr Chalmers is sending out are being interpreted by experts as likely to be good news for some of Australia’s most vulnerable people: those who rely on Centrelink payments.

More specifically, Dr Chalmers have given tacit approval to the notion of an increase in JobSeeker rate in the upcoming May budget.

Read: The surprise factor driving up your cost of living

The current JobSeeker rate for a single person with no children is $668.40 a fortnight. For those aged 60 or more, this increases to $718.60 after nine continuous months on the payment.

Factoring in the average cost of groceries, utilities and rental or mortgage payments, this comes across as a very small amount, as conversations with many of those who are surviving on those rates will confirm.

Those conversations are strongly supported by advocacy groups such as the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Both organisations have long called for significant increases to the dole.

Through its Raise the Rate For Good campaign, ACOSS has called for the Jobseeker payment, which works out to just $48 a day, to be drastically increased. It recommends a rate of $73 per day.

Read: Why pension and JobSeeker rates must be increased

While some believe such a big increase would be hard to justify, ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said an increase of that magnitude is needed “urgently”.

“Even before the cost-of-living crisis, income support payments weren’t nearly enough to cover basic expenses,” she said.

“But in the last 12 months, rents have risen by 18 per cent and food by about nine per cent. People on income supports are worst affected by these rising costs.”

Ms Goldie’s sentiments have been echoed by Swinburne University social sciences professor Kay Cook. Ms Cook said it was “indefensible” a payment intended to ensure people didn’t fall into poverty was set below the poverty line.

“There is no moral justification for having an income safety net not saving you from anything,” she said.

According to ACOSS’s ‘2022 Poverty in Australia Snapshot’, the poverty line comes in at $489 a week for a single adult. That equates to $978 a fortnight, well above the $668.40 a fortnight currently provided by the government.

Read: How not to fall foul of this Centrelink rule

Despite the positive signals been sent out by Dr Chalmers – “Clearly we will do what we can when we can,” he said

When asked about a JobSeeker increase – Dr Chalmers said any such reforms needed to be weighed against fiscal challenges facing the nation.

Such words sound like of a responsible government, but they perhaps become a little hollower when considering the Albanese government is steadfast in its commitment to Stage 3 tax cuts, which will reduce the marginal tax rate faced by the $45,000 to $200,000 tax bracket to 30 per cent.

The cost of those cuts? According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, by the end of the decade it will be almost $30 billion a year.

And the beneficiaries of the tax cuts? The same PBO estimates indicate that, in 2024-25, the top one per cent of income earners will receive the same total benefit as will the bottom 65 per cent.

That provides some perspective for those who see the calls from ACOSS as excessive. Whether such perspective will influence Dr Chalmers’ decisions will be revealed when May’s Federal Budget is delivered.

Should the JobSeeker rate be increased? What approach should the Government adopt in the May budget? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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