Australian charities and financial counsellors are bracing for the worst after JobSeeker was lifted by just $3.50 a day

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  • The Federal Government “missed its opportunity” to stand for “human decency” after increasing the JobSeeker rate by $3.50 a day, says Australian Council of Social Services CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
  • On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia’s base unemployment payment would lift by $50 a fortnight to $615.
  • Goldie, plus a host of charities and financial counsellors, say that long-awaited boost is nowhere near enough.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Federal Government “missed its opportunity” to stand for “human decency” when it agreed to lift the base JobSeeker rate by just $3.50 a day, according to social services advocates incensed by today’s shake-up to Australia’s core unemployment payment.

Responding to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Tuesday announcement of a permanent $50-a-fortnight JobKeeper boost, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the decision represented “a heartless betrayal of the millions of people who have been hit by unemployment.”

Goldie, whose organisation has long called for JobSeeker rate to be substantially lifted from its base rate of $565 a fortnight, said the meagre boost is wildly insufficient to curb financial distress.

She claimed the Federal Government’s earlier decision to temporarily tack the $550-a-fortnight Coronavirus Supplement onto the JobSeeker payment – which effectively doubled payments to Australia’s unemployed – showed lawmakers were capable of alleviating poverty.

“This $3.50 per day is a mean-spirited and complete betrayal of what is needed,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Morrison said Australia’s ongoing economic recovery from coronavirus shutdowns meant it was appropriate to wind back the Coronavirus Supplement from March 31.

That stance draws on the Federal Government’s relatively optimistic outlook for Australia’s jobs market in 2021, compared to the industry decimation experienced last year.

“But we’ve also formed the view that that base level of support that exists within our social safety net needs to be adjusted for the long term,” Morrison said.

The boost represents the first time Australia’s core unemployment payment has increased in real terms since 1994. Since then, JobKeeper – previously labelled Newstart – has only increased in line with CPI indexation.

Despite the long wait between cash infusions, Goldie is not alone in criticising today’s announcement.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the Coronavirus Supplement “helped people and allowed them to pay for basic necessities like rent, food, medicine, and resources for education and employment.”

“As our country transitions from COVID-19 crisis to recovery, this low JobSeeker rate should be out of the question,” he added.

Salvation Army Lt Colonel Lyn Edge agreed, saying, “We had some hope when [Treasurer Josh Frydenberg] said that he wanted people to be able to live with dignity but frankly, $25 a week will not achieve that.”

In a separate statement, the Salvation Army said the new JobKeeper level would place the burden of supporting Australia’s unemployed on the charity sector.

The decision has also drawn the ire of Financial Counselling Australia, whose CEO Fiona Guthrie said the Coronavirus Supplement reduced demand for their services “because many of our clients had enough money to live on for the first time in ages.”

“While any increase is better than nothing, this does not go anywhere near enough to help the most vulnerable,” she said.

That position was even backed by the CPA Australia, and the CEO of Australia’s peak accountancy body, Andrew Hunter, said, “the new rate still won’t provide adequate support or security to many recipients.”

While the Federal Opposition has long voiced its general support for a permanent boost to JobSeeker, the Labor Party is yet to put a dollar value on its proposed increase.

News of the $50-a-fortnight increase was also joined by confirmation that mutual obligations for JobSeeker recipients, which were watered down during coronavirus shutdowns, are slated to return.

Those changes mean Australians who receive JobKeeper will need to attend face-to-face appointments with job providers, and eventually ramp up their job applications to 20 a month.

In addition, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash announced employers will soon be able to dob in JobSeeker recipients who turn down the work offered to them.

Goldie said those tweaks mean Australia will introduce a “system which encourages a lack of trust and a culture of mistrust between people in the community.”

The elevated JobSeeker rate is expected to arrive on April 1, with the dob-in phone line expected to arrive around the same time.

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