Older Australians are the new face of unemployment

On Monday, the Senate will debate the Greens Senator Rachel Siewert’s private member’s bill to increase Newstart and Youth Allowance by $75 a week.

“It’s the fifth bill to increase Newstart I have introduced in my 14 years in Parliament,” Senator Siewert wrote in Junkee.

“Private member’s bills can be powerful, which is one of the reasons the major parties are expending so much energy trying to justify why they can’t support my bill instead of acknowledging that people on Newstart deserve more support.”

Countless older Australians may also say “why should we care about a bill that will mostly only affect younger people”.

These same people – aged 55 and over – may be interested to know that they will be the biggest beneficiaries of such a bill passing.

In fact, as the Age Pension age has risen, so too, has the number of unemployed older Australians. Social Services data confirms there are now 183,943 people aged 55 and over receiving Newstart payments.

The lowest age bracket receiving Newstart is the youngest, with just 62,526 people aged between 21 and 24 on the dole.

The Newstart benefit – $555 a fortnight – is a far cry from the full-Age Pension, which is $926.20 including supplements.

“Despite being the second wealthiest country in the world, poverty rates in Australia have remained entrenched at a high level, with three million people living below the poverty line. People in our community are denied dignity when they are forced to live on $40 a day for years and years, because the jobs are simply not there,” wrote Ms Siewert.

YourLifeChoices constantly reports on the plight of age pensioners living on $66 a day, but Newstart recipients live on $39 a day. The Age Pension must look good to Newstart recipients approaching pension age. Turning 67 for these people is the equivalent of getting a 40 per cent pay rise.

Gone are the days of stereotyping Newstart recipients as idle young ‘stoners’ too lazy to get off the couch or drag themselves away from their video games to find a job.

The new face of unemployment belongs to a mature-age worker.

And it’s not the sheer number of older people on Newstart that’s disturbing, it’s the length of time over-55s have to stay on Newstart – an average of 188 days.

“Older Australians who are out of work will retire into poverty and housing insecurity because of the difficulties they face getting back into work,” wrote Ms Siewert.

Almost eight in 10 (78 per cent) of those surveyed in the YourLifeChoices Friday Flash Poll: Age Pension or Newstart increase – which one should be a priority? said Newstart should be increased.

Even economists agree, that although a $10 a day increase would cost the Government around $3.3 billion, the economy would benefit.

“Of that direct cost of $3.3 billion, because it’s going to people who will basically spend every cent … it tends to have a bigger boost to the size of the economy than some other things do,” said chief economist at Deloitte Access Economics Chris Richardson.

Ms Siewert is fighting for this increase and will keep fighting until she gets it over the line.

“I will keep introducing private member’s bills and putting motions to Parliament until we get an increase to Newstart. This is not a political game; this is about people’s lives.”

Do you think Newstart payments should increase?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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