Newstart Inquiry Reports- Pretty Tepid
30 April 2020
The Senate Inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart reported yesterday 30/4/20. It had 3 ALP members, 2 Liberals and a Green Chair. It does recommend Jobseeker (ex-Newstart) be increased and draws attention to the fact that the Newstart allowance is/was so low that it becomes a hindrance to job seeking. The report notes that the COVID-19 crisis has made the job situation immensely worse, and notes that the creation of the Jobseeker payments at a much higher level than Newstart made it more realistic, but that the increase is only temporary. They recommended that the new level be maintained.
Most of the recommendations are that payments or processes be ‘reviewed’. I thought that his was the review and there would be concrete statements of what needed to be done, but this was not a review of all support systems, merely Newstart. Perhaps this soft sell is not to upset the government. If so, one hopes it is successful because it sounds pretty tepid for a government with both a thick hide and a cold heart. Here are the recommendations, and the Executive Summary is attached.
List of Recommendations
- The committee recommends the Australian Government set a national definition of poverty. The Government should immediately commence work in collaboration with academic experts and the community sector to determine this definition.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately undertake a review of the income support system to ensure that all eligible income support recipients do not live in poverty.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government undertake a review of the adequacy of the Commonwealth Rent Assistance program, to ensure it significantly improves rental affordability and reflects fluctuations in rents and local rental market circumstances.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to ensure immediate increases in funding for emergency relief housing and social housing.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government introduce measures to further reduce out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income earners and income support recipients.
- The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Community Affairs References Committee an inquiry into health inequality in Australia.
- The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Community Affairs References Committee an inquiry into provision of dental care in Australia.
- The committee recommends the Department of Social Services immediately improve the level of and access to the supports available through Centrelink services to victims of domestic and family violence, including:
- the Crisis Payment eligibility criteria, including the number of times an individual can apply for the Crisis Payment;
- the rates of payments;
- the adequacy of Centrelink rules and practices to establish the relationship status of a social security applicant;
- the delays in accessing payments; and
- the availability of trained and specialised staff operating in Centrelink offices to support victims of domestic and family violence.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately undertake a review of Austudy and ABSTUDY to examine:
- the adequacy of the eligibility criteria;
- the appropriateness of the application process and timeliness of decisions; and
- determine rates of payments that ensure people do not live in poverty.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government commission in 2021 an independent review of the student income support system and its administration.
- The committee recommends the Productivity Commission consider undertaking a study of the economic impacts of the income support payment policies on the not-for-profit sector; other federal government agencies; state, territory and local governments; and local economies.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately review the earnings threshold of income support payments to ensure it does not impede jobseekers transitioning to work.
- The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Community Affairs References Committee an inquiry into the mutual obligation requirements for working-age income support recipients and the adequacy and effectiveness of employment programs.
- The committee recommends the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment urgently undertake, in collaboration with stakeholders, an evaluation of the current employment services with a view to ensuring:
- There is adequate capacity to meet the significant increase in demand for their services;
- That employment programs move to a strength based, individualised approach that better meets the needs of all jobseekers; and
- That employment services are not responsible for any compliance implementation.
- The committee recommends the Department of Social Services urgently undertake the review of the Impairment Tables that will expire in 2022 and ensure that people with disability or a medical condition who cannot work receive fit-for-purpose support.
- The committee recommends the Department of Social Services immediately undertake a review of mutual obligations requirements in relation to job search activities for people who are unable to work due to a medical condition or a disability.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government work with employer groups to reduce the social, economic and budget costs of age discrimination.
- The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Education and Employment References Committee an inquiry into age discrimination in employment.
- The committee recommends the current Retirement Income Review examine as part of its review, the adequacy of the JobSeeker payment and its impact on the Age Pension system and budget, with reference to:
- early access to superannuation due to financial hardship experienced by unemployed income support recipients over 55; and
- the impact of means testing and the liquid assets waiting period on the retirement savings of unemployed people applying to the JobSeeker Payment.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately review the adequacy of the Parenting Payment (Single) and Family Tax Benefit —Part B to ensure:
- eligible single parents receive adequate support to meet the additional costs of raising a child until the child leaves the secondary school system; and
- that the total of income support payments an eligible applicant can receive does not allow the applicant to live in poverty.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government review the adequacy of the Remote Area Allowance with the view to:
- set an adequate rate of payment to address the higher costs of living in remote Australia; and
- set a remote-area measure of inflation to be used to index the payment annually.
- The committee recommends the National Indigenous Australians Agency commission a study into the prevalence, causes and consequences of First Nations Peoples living in remote communities not taking up or dropping out of the social security system.
- The committee recommends the Department of Social Services undertake a review of the adequacy of the Youth Allowance policy criteria and rates of payment to ensure recipients do not live in poverty.
- The committee recommends Services Australia ensure that vulnerable young people are systematically assigned a caseworker to assist them with their applications for income support payments and connect them with the relevant services that can provide further assistance.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government establish a Social Security System Expert Group led by independent experts charged with periodically examining the adequacy of the social security system and reporting to Parliament to ensure the Australian Government meets its responsibilities.
- The committee recommends that the Social Security System Expert Group is tasked with a review of the social security system to advise Parliament on how to reform the system to achieve better outcomes and increase economic participation. Such a review would provide advice to Parliament on the following matters:
- establishing an appropriate mechanism to establish payment rates for allowances, pensions and supplements;
- determining an appropriate benchmark for the indexation of all income support payment rates;
- ensuring payments and allowances reflect people’s circumstances and needs;
- adopting effective models to support people into work;
- providing additional support and measures to address entrenched disadvantage and long-term unemployment; and
- addressing any other related matters identified by the Social Security System Expert Group.
- The committee recommends that once the Coronavirus Supplement is phased out, the Australian Government increase the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment rates to ensure that all eligible recipients do not live in poverty.
Executive Summary at: