Evidence is in: Government must now reverse single parent cuts and lift Newstart

The Australian Council of Social Service is today calling on the federal Government to take immediate steps to reverse the damaging cuts to single parenting payments and increase the grossly inadequate Newstart Allowance following the release of the final report of a key Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, says the report, released late yesterday evening, is historic. “As the first ever final report from this new Joint Committee on Human Rights, established by this Government, it is vital that the Government accedes to its recommendations, if we are to have any faith in this Committee process being an adequate method for protecting human rights in Australia.”

“The Committee’s report was unanimous and confirms the view of frontline groups and the entire community sector, that the decision to move more than 80,000 single parents onto the Newstart Allowance when their youngest child turns eight will ‘place additional stress on vulnerable families, without providing a correspondingly better outcome in terms of work prospects’.

“It’s clear the decision was merely a budget saving measure that must now be overturned if we are to prevent already struggling single parents and their children falling deeper into poverty,” said Dr Goldie.

“The Committee’s report also shines the light on the complete inadequacy of the Newstart payment, which although out of the scope of the Committee’s work, now places the onus on the government to either prove the payment is adequate or raise it for the first time in nearly 20 years.

“ACOSS supports the view of the Committee that the government adopt an official poverty line as previously recommended by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is unacceptable that as a nation we don’t have an official measure of the level of poverty that would enable us to set targets and take measures to address the problem, nor have we set any measure of progress in poverty reduction. It should disturb as all that the rate of poverty in Australia – 1 in 8 people, and 1 in 6 children, is on the rise, despite twenty years of strong economic growth.

“In light of the Committee’s concerns about lack of consultation and impact assessment with affected families, the absence of considered alternatives, and a monitoring mechanism to assess the impact of the changes, the only appropriate action now is for an immediate reversal of the cuts, and to ensure that Newstart and other allowances are adequate for the other 682,873 people who barely survive on them.

“Upon a request from ACOSS and other groups the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently wrote a strongly worded letter to the government raising serious concerns that the cuts may be a violation of several rights included under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Commonwealth Government has still not responded.

“Now the government’s own Human Rights Committee says ‘The evidence suggests that the government has neglected to fully integrate human rights considerations into the development and implementation of these measures as required under the ICESCR’.

“It is not a good look for a country that has only just taken up a temporary seat at the UN Security Country to be breaching key international human rights obligations.

“We are calling on the government to do the right thing by single parents and their children and reinstate their payment. We also want to see the Government act on the Committee’s recommendation for ‘a more concerted effort to address the question of adequacy’ of Newstart Allowance. ACOSS and others have recommended a $50 increase to the single rate, in line with the Henry Review panel finding in 2010, and to link indexation to wages.

“This simply must happen in the upcoming Budget. It is extraordinary that, just yesterday, whilst people on the Aged Pension received $18 per week increase, people on Newstart only received a $2 a week increase. The growing gap between these payments, now $150 per week, is untenable.” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See Report: 

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Examination of legislation in accordance with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012.