Statement to Jobs and Skills Summit by ACOSS Acting CEO, Edwina MacDonald

2 September 2022

Thank you to the panellists and participants who have shared their lived experiences, and solutions, with us today.

We need processes that meaningfully include people directly affected – experts by experience – and ensure their voices are at the centre of policy debate and development.

As we talk about supporting people into paid work, how many participants at this summit are unemployed or living in poverty?

Across Australia, there are 930,000 people on unemployment payments locked out of paid work. 930,000 people.

We must acknowledge the major barrier to employment they face every day: simply not having enough money to survive – to pay the rent, pay for medicine and cover three meals a day.

Not having enough money to get a haircut, buy a new shirt, or travel to a job interview.

Unconscionably low payments undermine physical health, mental health and self-esteem.

Instead of lifting people up, our social security system is breaking people.

A woman on youth allowance told us:

I feel like I’m seconds away from drowning at all times. Every time I step into a grocery store or look at my bank account, I lose a bit of myself. I’m thinking about money so often, I find it difficult to think about or do anything else.

Keagan, who is on jobseeker, told us:

They tell me to upskill so I can get a decent job that will last. But training takes time and that means more time that I don’t have enough money to get by on. I’m stuck at the bottom, scrambling for bottom level, short term jobs, so I can survive.

Anders, who is on Jobseeker, told us:

I know that my ability to apply for jobs improves when I can afford to travel across the city for interviews. As it stands, I already struggle to keep my car on the road, and if I can, I greatly reduce the amount of money I have left to eat, to present myself well enough for an interview and afford to keep my mobile phone active. Public transport is costly, too, particularly if you don’t find work after using it to get around.

As set out in ACOSS’s joint statement with the BCA and ACTU, a substantial increase to the rate of Jobseeker and related payments must be a priority coming out of this Summit

We must increase payments to at least $70 a day so that our social security system stops being a barrier to workforce participation and stops driving people further into poverty.