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“My children will have to cut back on the medication that they need,” Mandy Weber says. The single mother of four had been relying on the government’s jobseeker payments to keep her children fed and healthy, as the coronavirus pandemic condemned her to unemployment.
“I could go to the supermarket, and instead of doing a $30 shop for the week, I could do a $200 shop for the fortnight,” she says.
The extra payment, introduced by the government in the wake of the pandemic, changed Weber’s life, affording her and her family the opportunity to live normal, dignified lives.
“It gave me the dignity to have fresh fruit, like apples and bananas, salads and fresh meat that we wouldn’t normally get,” she says.
But now that the supplement has been reduced, life in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, has suddenly become very different for Weber and her children.
“It’s going to affect my household hugely; it’s going to affect whether we can pay our bills, maintain power and water, whether we can afford to pay rent, whether we can even afford to eat,” she says.
“There won’t be any birthday presents or Christmas presents, I no longer have enough to even buy them a cake.”
Weber is far from alone. Millions of Australians who have lost work during the pandemic and found themselves dependent on the supplement will find the cuts difficult to stomach.
The jobseeker program, formerly known as Newstart, included a top-up to unemployment payments. But since 25 September that top-up has been cut by more than half – from $550 a fortnight to $250.
That reduces the fortnightly rate for singles from $1,115 to $815. Singles with children and over 60s will get $862 and couples will receive $760 each.
For many who have seen their livelihoods and opportunities vanish in the nation’s first recession in three decades, the cuts are disastrous.
“I just think it’s horrible and degrading. There are no words to describe it, it should not be cut,” Weber says.
“Now that it’s gone, it’s going to be a lot harder to survive really, and a lot harder to look for work.”
The government has also made it mandatory for recipients to apply for up to eight jobs each month.
Just before the pandemic hit, Weber had accepted a job at a local pub, and looked forward to ending her dependence on government payouts. But the pandemic ruined that plan – the pub was forced to shut its doors due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Since then, job opportunities have been few and far between.
“There’s over 100 people going for the same position, you’ve got a lot of qualified chefs working in childcare at the moment because there’s no work out there,” she says.
Kristin O’Connell of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union echoes Weber’s concern, saying people were already struggling as it was.
“People living on the jobseeker payments have been living on the poverty line for a few months, and they’re about to be $150 below it.
“And we know that’s going to cause people to skip meals, skip medical care and to be skipping real essentials that everyone should be able to access,” O’Connell says.
The flow-on effects from losing vital income support are telling – from cutting healthy food and medicine, to the added strain on mental health.
“It really affects your self-esteem. You can’t go into a job interview confident if you’re hungry and you can’t think. You may not even be able to afford toothpaste to brush your teeth,” O’Connell says.
The government’s caveat in cutting the rates to income support was that it extended both jobseeker and jobkeeper for six months.
Both payments were introduced to support people who suddenly found themselves out of a job because of the pandemic, effectively acting as a safety net for millions.
But the pandemic has skewed the job market, making it hard for anyone to find work.
“There are just so few jobs available,” O’Connell says. “Last Tuesday, there were about 113,000 jobs advertised on Seek, and on the same day there were 1.62 million people living on unemployment payments.
“So the idea that people could just go out and get themselves out of poverty by finding a job, even if the system worked, is ridiculous at this time.”
Weber says she had been applying for jobs in the interim, but found it close to impossible to get a look.
“Before Covid-19, I would apply for around four jobs and guaranteed I would get one of them. Now I’ve applied for 100 jobs, and I’ve only managed to get one interview.”
A Deloitte report from earlier this month said reducing the supplements would cost the economy $31.3bn and as many as 145,000 full-time jobs over two years.
Weber says her only choice is to continue applying for jobs in the hope of keeping her children away from poverty.
“I will always apply for work. I am someone who wants to work. I’m not someone who wants to sit at home.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘It’s degrading’: Australians on the poverty line brace for pain after jobseeker cuts | Welfare