The largest number of people on Newstart are not the stereotypical beach-bum, but older Australians.
The largest number of people on Newstart are not the stereotypical beach-bum, but older Australians. Steve Debenport

Leading agencies call for raising the Newstart rate

FOR 25 years the Newstart rate hasn't been lifted by the Federal Government which is why the Raise the Rate campaign is in full voice ahead of the May election.

The largest number of people on Newstart, at 173,196 as reported in December by the Department of Social Services, are not the stereotypical beach-bum, but people aged 55 to 64.

In March this year the same department reported those recipients were on Newstart for more than three years.

While on Newstart an older worker won't be able to accumulate savings and face the ignominy of approaching retirement lived in poverty.

Driven by the Australian Council of Social Services and supported by COTA, National Seniors Australia and the Benevolent Society, the campaign call is out for both side of politics to bring in an increase in the fortnightly payment by at least $75 per week.

The Newstart Allowance, or 'the dole' as it was known in past years, is paid as income support while Australians are unemployed and looking for work. Its single rate (no children) is currently $555.70 per fortnight. The single rate for the Aged Pension is $843.60 for the same period.

Dr Kirsty Nowlan, Benevolent Society executive director, Strategy, Engagement, Research and Development said Newstart has been indexed.

"It moves with the level of CPI, but it doesn't move at the level of wages," she said. "It has declined relative to both the pension and minimum wage."

"We have done some research on the adequacy of the Aged Pension," she added. "What we found is that only if you are in a couple, you own your home and you're well that the Pension is just adequate.

"On all the research on the cost of living in Australia, we know that the figures are inadequate to keep people out of poverty."

Dr Nowlan said two other things can help make a change to the challenges of older workers getting back into the workforce at a financially critical time of their life.

"We need a whole new approach to mature-age employment in this country," she said.

"The fact that we have a group of people, who if they pull out of the workforce will struggle to get back in, means that we need to address do they need transitioning into different industries if they are from an industry in decline; can they move into a different phase of working and how might we enable that.

"Also, we need to address those normal stereotypes which really block people from re-entering the workforce.

"We also need to think about what it means when you're in this age group and heading towards retirement, and you are stuck on a social security benefit which suggests one of two things - either you're in poverty or you are drawing down on your savings such that your standard of living in retirement is going to be significantly diminished."

Dr Nowlan suggested Seniors can drive a public debate on this issue by adding their voice to social media, talking to their local MP and joining the Raise the Rates campaign.

"One of the reasons that neither of the major parties are putting Raising the Rate on their policy platforms is because they know it's not a vote winner," Dr Nowlan said.


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