‘It is time for Government to lift the level of payment for hundreds of thousands who are seeking work but forced to rely on income support allowances that drive individuals and families into poverty’, said Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

Issuing the annual Pastoral Letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker (1 May), Bishops Saunders said, ‘Over 800,000 Australians struggle to survive on employment-related payments. The majority receive the Newstart Allowance, which at the single rate is less than $250 per week, or $35 a day.’

Up to 80 per cent of recipients experience three or more indicators of financial stress each year, such as lacking finances for emergencies, being unable to pay utility bills, or going further into debt. Many are going without meals just to make ends meet.

‘It has long been the position of policy-makers that the low rate of Allowance functions as an incentive to finding work. Far from being an incentive, it has now become a barrier to work’, Bishop Saunders said. ‘For many, the payment does not cover the costs of job search and circumstances of financial stress can detract from seeking employment and preparing for interviews.

‘Allowances have not been increased since 1994. They have not kept pace with costs of living.

‘The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council supports calls for a $50 per week increase to the base rate of Allowance. Payments should be indexed to average wages to close the gap between Allowance and Pension rates. And an independent commission should be established to set benchmarks of adequacy related to a standard of living below which no citizen should fall.

‘It is time for a “new start” – one that focuses first on the adequacy of Newstart and other Allowance payments’, Bishop Saunders said.

The Pastoral Letter can be downloaded here.

For further information:

Bishop Christopher Saunders
Chairman, ACSJC Tel: 0418 260 155

John Ferguson
National Executive Officer, ACSJC Tel: 02 8306 3499