Welcome change of tack in health education and housing, but vilification of people who are unemployed continues

Tuesday 9 May 2017

ACOSS welcomes the change of tack to invest in health, education and housing, but the 2014 Budget mindset to demonise and impoverish the most disadvantaged continues.

“The government is trying to put the 2014 horror budget behind it, securing the National Disability Insurance Scheme and putting housing affordability on the agenda but the government still neglects, blames and targets the most disadvantaged in the social security system”, said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The government’s significant change of tack on Medicare and schools funding is welcome, recognising that people value essential services. The challenge is to properly fund them. The government has begun to strengthen the revenue side, by increasing the Medicare levy and taking further steps to stem tax avoidance by international businesses. But securing funds for essential services like Medicare while restoring the budget is not just an accounting exercise: it will require major reform to make sure that every individual and businesses pays tax according to their ability to do so.

“ACOSS welcomes the first steps to address housing affordability, including key elements to encourage private investment in affordable housing and secure funding for homelessness services. This start will only deliver for those on the lowest incomes if the next step is taken: new public investment in social housing and improved rent assistance for tenants. On the other hand, the extension of super tax breaks to people buying a first home or downsizing is a backward step that will increase house prices and waste public revenue.

“But in social security, the government remains stuck in the 2014 budget mindset that demonises and impoverishes people who are unemployed. Access to their payments is restricted by the continuation of income management and extension of the ‘cashless debit card’. The wasteful Work for the Dole scheme continues, and the government is having another go at cutting the Pensioner Education Supplement.

“It speaks volumes for the government’s approach to social security that unemployed people are denied the one-off $75 Energy Supplement and it proposes to drug-test recipients and deny the Disability Support Pension to people if their disability is drug-related. New waiting periods are proposed for Age Pensions for people who are migrants and have had to rely on income support during working life.

“A major restructure of penalties for unemployed people saving more than $200 million a year is proposed without convincing evidence the system is widely abused, or discussion with the community sector. Given the severe impact that penalties have, the system should not be restructured without a public review.

“It’s time the government invested in jobs and unemployed people instead of penalising people for poverty. The modest investment in career counselling for older people who are unemployed, and linking of employment assistance with infrastructure projects shows the way forward but with unemployment projected to remain above 5% for four years, there’s much more to be done.”

Media contact: ACOSS 0419 626 155

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