With the world’s fourteenth largest economy by GDP measures, why does Australia have a need for social security? Should we question the extent to which the Australian social security system is effectively providing ‘high-quality, accessible social, health and child support services payments or ‘improv(ing) the wellbeing of individuals and families’ as described by Services Australia and the Department of Social Services?
The issue of ‘Poverty and Social Security’ was discussed as a workshop at the ‘Time for a Human Rights Framework?’ event hosted by the Rights Resources Network SA. It’s a growing concern that has been brought in to political and social discussions as the coronavirus pandemic has upended day to day lives across the globe. The pandemic has presented dramatic numbers in loss of life and provided a challenge to public health. Those who were able to avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic still face the long-lasting impacts on their livelihoods and lifestyles.
Much like the rest of the world, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the lives of many Australians, especially in terms of loss of employment. The pandemic prompted many to lose their jobs, dismantling economic security across the globe.
Australians in receipt of unemployment social security payments are often negatively portrayed as a group of people that either lack the willingness or exert behavioural problems that stop their chances of gaining employment. While social security in Australia has always been viewed as a temporary measure, the pandemic has exposed that the social security system isn’t equipped to meet the change in the economic environment conditions. The Morrison Government suddenly became aware that the fortnightly payments didn’t cover the costs of living when unemployed.
The growth in unemployment has challenged the long-held term of “dole bludger” when it comes to those in receipt of welfare. The current approach and attitude view poverty and social security payments as the outcome of an individual’s failure rather than as the result of systemic inequality and structural unemployment. If anything, the pandemic has stressed that the needed approach and attitude towards those needing social security should consider them as people in need rather than beggars.
The Government’s response to the pandemic was the support of additional payments for those on social security benefits except for those on a pension. At the start of the pandemic, the additional support rate was $550 a fortnight, but by September, it was reduced to $250. Although an ABS Labour Account survey provided statistics showing the rising economy and the labour market recovering, at the end of March 2021, the previous standard of $40 a day Jobseeker rate will resume and over a million people will be forced to live precariously. Along with the expected reduction in rates, September’s resumption of the assets and income tests and mutual obligation requirements have brought the stress of a fluctuating income to many households in the middle of a pandemic.
While the pandemic has finally made the Government realise that with the growth in unemployment and their reliance on social security payments, the previous fortnightly or weekly payments were inadequate to cover the costs of living. To truly improve the lifestyles and reduce the levels of poverty, the Government must raise the rates of social security payments and consider the system as a whole. Rather than reducing the support payment, it needs to remain at the rate that was initially raised in response to the pandemic, and it must be extended across all payment types.
For further information, advocacy and representation on this important issue see the South Australian Council of Social Service and the Anti-Poverty Network SA. Join the cause with the Raise the Rate campaign.
Eiesha de la Cuesta is a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), Bachelor of Arts (History and Global Politics) student at the University of South Australia. She has a strong passion for Human Rights and Environmentalism. She is currently volunteering in a Human Rights Position with the Rights Resources Network SA.