Pressure mounts for an increase in welfare payments

Pressure mounts for an increase in welfare payments

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It is harder to find work now than it has been for years. Australia had only 166,000 vacant jobs in November 2012 while more than 600,000 people were looking for work. In many states more than four people are competing for each vacant job.

In this context pressure is mounting for an increase in welfare payments. Even newspapers like the Herald Sun have featured articles condemning Jenny Macklin for her ridiculous claim that she could live on unemployment benefits of around $35 a day.

By Simon Millar, Socialist Party

Reflecting a growing mood in society, even two ALP senators – Doug Cameron and Gavin Marshall – were forced to break with the findings of a recent Senate Committee report that concluded that no increase to welfare payments was necessary.

Meanwhile, you have the Greens and a wide spectrum of NGO’s, led by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), that are lobbying for $50 a week increase to the jobseeker benefit ‘Newstart Allowance’. Given the high cost of living, a paltry $50 increase is by no means enough. Even the NGO’s own submissions to the Senate inquiry state this.

The government and even ACOSS think that the Newstart Allowance should be kept low so as to ‘encourage’ participation in the work force. This ignores the problem that capitalism is simply not creating enough jobs. Even many of those that are in work want more hours. Far from being prepared to fund welfare, or sacrifice their profits, employers are insisting that ordinary people bear the brunt of the economic downturn.

The Senate report pointed out that there has been an increase in long-term unemployment. At the same time we are seeing widespread poverty with 1 in 8 Australians now living below the poverty line.

The report shamelessly concludes that the priority should be to give money to employers that take on the long-term unemployed – the exact same employers that have ruthlessly shed jobs in the first place!

ACOSS estimates that a $50 increase to the Newstart Allowance for singles would cost approximately $500 million. This may seem like a lot of money but is a pittance when compared to the Australian Government’s total expected revenue of $376.1 billion for 2012-13.

Socialists go further than ACOSS and the Greens and demand an immediate increase in welfare payments of at least $100 a week. This could be funded by increasing taxes on the wealthy, increasing company tax rates or increasing the tax on mining super profits.

Ordinary people should not be punished and forced into poverty because of a system that routinely throws people onto the scrap heap to defend profits. Socialists stand for a society where decent benefits, education or work are available for all.

This would mean reducing work hours (with no loss of pay) to share out available work. It would also mean public investment into necessary and socially useful services and infrastructure to provide jobs for all those available to work. However, this can only be achieved in a system that puts people’s needs before profits.

In order to win an increase in welfare benefits, or indeed better education and jobs with living wages, we will have to fight for them. The historic campaigns of the Unemployed Workers Union, led by the Communist Party, during the time of the 1930s depression show how this can be done successfully.

Lobbying and parliamentary manoeuvres will not be enough. Those on welfare payments need to build their own organisations to represent them. Trade unions need to campaign jointly with the unemployed to ensure that bosses and governments are not driving a wedge between those who work and those who are currently unemployed.