NATIONAL: The head of St Vincent de Paul says giving inadequate welfare payments to unemployed people is like punishing a person who can’t walk up stairs while refusing to build a ramp.
John Falzon on Tuesday gave evidence at a Senate inquiry in Canberra investigating whether the low levels of the Newstart and Youth Allowance payments have become a barrier to people getting a job.
For years welfare and business groups have been calling for unemployment benefits to be lifted by a “modest” $50 a week, he said.
The increase could cost government about $1.5 billion a year and Workplace Minister Bill Shorten says there are no plans to boost payments any time soon.
Dr Falzon said the government’s refusal to lift payments was like “condemning people for not being able to walk up stairs while refusing to build a ramp”.
The inquiry was a waste of time because there was overwhelming evidence that forcing the unemployed into a cycle of poverty did not help their job prospects, self esteem and sometimes contributed to mental illnesses, he said.
Newstart was 40 per cent less than the minimum wage after tax, Dr Falzon said.
A $50 rise would lift this to 53 per cent, he said.
People were skipping meals to pay their power bills and could not afford job interview clothes, the hearing heard.
“Little things people take for granted like being able to turn up for a job interview having had a hair cut, or to wear neat clothes, or have dental work done, these are barriers to employment,” Dr Falzon told the hearing.
“Humiliation begets greater disempowerment.”
He said the politicisation of welfare has robbed disadvantaged people of their integrity.
Charities like his were becoming “defacto providers of social security” because of the welfare benefits did not meet people’s basic living costs.