Spring 2018

Editor’s note

Poster on a street pole saying: Good news is coming.
Photo: Jon Tyson/Unsplash.

Welcome to the spring issue of The Record.

I’m new around here, and I have had the privilege of guiding this issue in to land.

This quarter, we’ve put together a single issue about a single issue: we’re talking all things social security as we take a granular look at Newstart payments in Australia. If you’re on Newstart, you’re probably doing it tough.

Our society is built on giving a helping hand when someone needs it most. Key to this is an adequate income safety net that guarantees people can meet their basic needs when facing the toughest times of their lives. But in our lucky country, social security payments have slipped to such a low level that many people on Newstart struggle to put food on the table or a roof over their heads. Consider these truth bombs:

Newstart hasn’t seen an increase since 1994.

Australia has the lowest unemployment benefit in the OECD.

It’s a simple problem with a simple solution: we want to see Newstart, Youth Allowance and other related payments increase by $75 per week.

Some might argue that the social security system in Australia has long been driven by a punitive philosophy; the idea that if you’re in need of assistance, it’s your own fault and you should be grateful for any help you receive, regardless of how small. But this argument is hard to sustain when you consider that the biggest beneficiaries of taxpayer handouts are the wealthy in the form of tax concessions which, at $135 billion, are costing Australia six times what Newstart does. And blaming people for their unemployment ignores the fact that there simply are not enough jobs, with eight underemployed or under-employed people for every job vacancy.

More fundamentally, forcing people into poverty and destitution undermines their self-worth, their wellbeing and their dignity.

And, while we’re talking economics, the last few years has given rise to economist superstars like Thomas Piketty and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. Thanks to their work, it has become clear that the neoliberal ideology that promotes financial inequality through a lack of investment into those who are the worst off is actually harmful to a country’s economic growth. With growing recognition of the economic costs of inequality, calls to raise Newstart have come from across the political spectrum and from organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Business Council for Australia.

In the pages ahead, we’ll crunch some numbers and also look at some individual stories. Over the years of volunteering with Vinnies, I’ve met hundreds of individuals and families on social security who needed our help because Newstart payments are too scant to cover basic necessities like soaring rent, bills and groceries. Since Vinnies is about offering a hand up and not a hand out, part of our job is challenging injustice where we see it.

That’s where this issue comes in.

In the following pages, we’ve collated some of the sharpest minds in Australia to present the case that Newstart in this country is too low to survive on. We turned to former federal Liberal party leader Dr John Hewson to give us a primer on the state of Newstart in this country; Bishop Vincent Long argues that it’s time to reassess wage stagnation; CEO of Foodbank Australia Brianna Casey makes the case for a food security strategy; and Juanita McLaren lets us take a peek into the life of someone suddenly needing income support.

Raising the Newstart Allowance is a little gesture that would make a big difference to a lot of people. We encourage you to read through the magazine, consider the arguments and make up your own mind. And by the turn of the final page, we hope you can join us in celebrating an idea that will lift the living standards of over 800,000 Australians.

When you take a stand for those with the least in society, history has a way of proving you right. With that, I won’t hold you back from reading through our latest. Enjoy.

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