So low has the Newstart unemployment benefit fallen compared to the cost of living it now won’t even pay the rent on a typical Sydney one bedroom unit.
New calculations from the Tenants Union of Victoria show the single Newstart allowance with associated rent assistance now either just meets or fails to meet the median rent in every capital city other than Adelaide and Hobart.
Newstart is $244.85 per week, rent assistance an extra $60.10. In Sydney the $304.95 total falls far short of the $420 median rent on a one bedroom flat. In Melbourne and Perth it barely exceeds the $300 median.
If a jobseeker on Newstart decides to share, paying half the rent on on a two-bedroom flat, his or her rent assistance is cut, bringing down total $284.90 per week, leaving just $60.90 per week to spare after rent payments of $225. The excess needed for food, clothes, fares and utility bills works out at $8.70 per day.
Tenants Union of Victoria liaison officer Toby Archer says single Australians looking for work have to adapt, renting housing below the median, sharing overcrowded houses, couch surfing and using boarding houses and caravan parks.
“But even in boarding houses rent consumes a big part of their income... They spend as little as they possibly can on food, they avoid going to the doctor or the dentist, they don’t buy medication. They find it hard to present themselves for jobs.”
“By the time we see them they are behind on their rent, they’ve already eaten into savings, sold their cars and pawned things of value.”
Once comparable to the pension, Newstart has failed to keep pace since the two were indexed separately in 1997. The unemployment benefit is now just two-thirds of the single pension and is slipping with each half-yearly adjustment. In March the pension was lifted $3.35 per week, Newstart $1.45 per week.
Greens leader Christine Milne this week committed herself to winding back some of the $132.90 per week gap, saying some of the planned cut in company tax should be diverted to lifting Newstart $50 per week.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has acknowledged the problem telling the Press Club in the lead up to the budget there is “a case about the gap that has opened up,” but adding, “how we can deal with that in the longer term is a difficult one given that the fiscal pressures and so on the government is facing”.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is this week attempting to live on $17 per day, her calculation of what Newstart jobseekers would be left with if they handed over only half their income in rent.
In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age
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