The Guardian July 31, 2002


Welfare recipients move further below poverty line

by Janice Hamilton

Recent data released by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) 
and Canberra University shows that over 400,000 unemployed people and 
students have moved further below the Henderson poverty line. ACOSS 
President Andrew McCallum said, "Students and unemployed Australians are 
surviving on social security payments that are between 20 per cent and 39 
per cent below the poverty line." With as many as one in every six people 
in Australia living below the poverty line the extent of poverty should be 
ringing alarm bells for the so-called policy makers, and society 
generally.

The Henderson Poverty Line was developed by Professor R F Henderson, in the 
1970s while undertaking the Australian Government Commission into Poverty.

His widely used formula calculates the amount of money which individuals 
and families or different sizes need to cover basic living costs. This 
model represents an extremely austere living standard.

Mature age students who are over 25 years old fare the worst with a social 
security payment that is 39 per cent below the poverty line. They receive 
an Austudy payment that is substantially less than the unemployment benefit 
and, inexplicably, are also not entitled to Rent Assistance.

"This means that unemployed adults who seek to upgrade their qualifications 
by returning to study lose $82 a week when they are forced shift from 
unemployment benefits to the Austudy payment", said Mr McCallum.

"This is unfair and counterproductive as it creates a disincentive for 
unemployed people to improve their prospects of finding work by upgrading 
their qualifications."

"These below-poverty line payment levels are a national disgrace and urgent 
action is needed by way of increasing levels of benefit to at least equal 
the Henderson Poverty Line figures.

"An adequate, basic income is fundamental to our social security system and 
this must be one of the top priorities for the Government's Welfare Reform 
process."

"A good start would be to bring all welfare payments up to the Henderson 
Poverty line", said Mr McCallum, and ensure the Austudy payment was up to 
the level of the Newstart Allowance for unemployed people.

With the Federal Government continually attacking welfare recipients with 
more incentives to tear away at the welfare system are of great concern.

Not only are people being asked to survive on payments well below the 
poverty line, they are also facing a increasing number of harsh penalties 
(breaching).

These penalties are imposed for such pathetic reasons as not responding to 
a letter within a directed time period or if a potential employer fails to 
remember if the person rang for a job. In the last year there has been a 
250 percent increase in the number of breaches.

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