The Guardian May 16, 2001


Howard's Shame: 500,000 below poverty line

by Andrew Jackson

As the unemployment rate climbs and GST-induced bankruptcies add thousands 
more to the dole queue, new figures show that half a million people are 
surviving on social security payments that are 18 to 37 per cent below the 
poverty line.

An adequate, basic income should be fundamental to any social security 
system in a rich industrialised nation.

Yet John Howard's "punish the unemployed" agenda means dole payments are 
deliberately kept way below the minimum needed to survive.

The benefit rate for a single adult unemployed person is 21 per cent below 
the Henderson poverty line "the Australian "fair living standard").

Worst hit are the mature-aged (over 25) students, with their maximum 
Austudy payment reaching only $140.55 per week, 37 per cent below the 
poverty line.

Responding to the figures, ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) 
President Michael Raper said, "It is unfair and counter-productive that 
unemployed adults who seek to upgrade their skills by returning to study 
lose $78 a week when they shift from unemployment benefits to Austudy 
payment".

He said, "these below-poverty line payments are a national disgrace", and 
demanded the Federal Government take urgent action to relieve the 
tremendous hardship faced by these people.

Meanwhile, the April unemployment figures show the ranks of the 
impoverished are continuing to grow under the new GST economy.

Unemployment rose to 6.8 per cent in April, underlying this figure was a 
loss last month of 40,400 full-time jobs.

The Government tried to put a bright spin on the figures by highlighting 
the huge growth in part-time employment up by 80,500 last month, a triumph 
of their (flexible workforce) policies.

However this growth is due to the rubbery definitions used by the Federal 
Government, and hides the shameful fact that 2.5 million Australian workers 
are unable to find a full-time job, and may be living on next to no income.

Those 27 per cent of Australian workers who are considered "part-time 
employed" include people whose jobs may provide as little as one hour per 
week of employment.

Even more outrageously, the Government considers even those people who have 
worked one hour per week without pay" on a farm or family business as 
"employed".

Even more shameful than its covering-up of the true unemployment statistics 
is the failure of the Government to take concrete action to create jobs.

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