It’s federal Budget week and if you haven’t already heard or read by now the myriad announcements that red is the new black, well then, you have now.
But another government announcement last week revealed that JobSeeker payments are the new ‘pre-Age Pension’ payment.
That’s what the latest Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report states, along with revelations that the typical ‘welfare’ recipient is now aged 55 – or older.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic hitting, half of JobSeeker – then Newstart – recipients were aged 45 or younger, and mostly male.
Now, in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, the typical welfare recipient is an older person rather than a younger male.
And an increasing number of those older Australians relying on JobSeeker payments are women over 60.
Older female recipients are on the payment for longer, too, says the report, which may be partly due to women being moved from partner payments to JobSeeker payments, but also due to the increase in the Age Pension age.
However, it seems an increasing number of older Australian men and women are now reliant on the payment.
“Overall, JobSeeker appears to be functioning as a kind of pre-Age Pension payment for some older Australians,” states the report.
“The share of recipients aged 60 and older also increased for both genders, with a larger rise among females.
“From the end of the 1990s to around 2007, JobSeeker recipient numbers tracked unemployment relatively closely for both genders. However, a noticeable and often growing divergence between JobSeeker recipients and unemployment can be seen for women from around 2011. This divergence is driven particularly by older female recipients.”
Between 2007 and 2019, the proportion of JobSeeker recipients who needed the payment for one year or more rose from 48 to 71 per cent for women and from 51 to 63 per cent for men.
Back in 2001, typical JobSeeker recipients were men aged between 25 and 29, then men aged between 21 and 24.
In 2019, they were overtaken by older people, particularly women, who made up the largest proportion of recipients.
And, by June 2019, one-third of women and just under a third of men aged 55 and over had been receiving the payment for five or more years.
The low rate of the payments exacerbates concerns of older JobSeeker recipients, mostly women.
“We are looking at a crisis of older women retiring into poverty,” said Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.
“Before this crisis hit, almost half of people on Newstart had an illness or disability.
“These are people that should be properly supported or on DSP [Disability Support Pension], not threatened with having a payment taken away because they are too sick to look for jobs.”
Even before the pandemic, women’s financial security was an issue in need of immediate attention and support.
On average, women retire with half the super of men, and women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population.
COVID-19 has put even more pressure on women’s financial positions, says Women’s Agenda reporter Kristine Ziwica.
“As the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on women’s financial position – their ability to earn and their ability to save – bite, we are at a critical crossroads. A difficult issue that politicians and policy makers have been kicking down the road for far too long requires urgent action… before it’s too late,” she wrote, adding that the pandemic could thrust a generation of women into poverty in their old age.
Industries most affected by shutdowns, as well as other part-time and casual roles, are heavily comprised of female workers.
These women are likely to be working fewer hours, if at all, and are also most likely to be taking on more unpaid domestic work and care duties.
Subsequently, many have been forced to access entire super balances just to get through the pandemic.
“It’s certainly a period of considerable risk as all these issues are conspiring to create an environment where – down the track “women’s poverty will increase,” says Equality Rights Alliance project coordinator Romy Listo.
“There’s a level of urgency. We know younger women have been clearing out their superannuation, there’s a risk of women becoming permanently locked out of the workforce, particularly if childcare is unavailable or unaffordable; these issues are going to have major implications in the long term.”
Australian Council of Social Service chief Cassandra Goldie says the PBO report is “deeply concerning”.
“It’s vital that the government invests in wage subsidies and training for people who are at risk of long-term unemployment,” said Dr Goldie.
“We also need to see increased investment in care services such as aged care and childcare, which generate more jobs – especially for women – than the same amount invested in infrastructure.
“We must ensure that those people who could not get paid work even before this crisis hit, including older women, are not left behind in entrenched unemployment.”
The federal government has already signalled it will not retain the higher payment rate permanently, but advocates say this new research suggests it should strongly reconsider this position.
Do you think the government should create a ‘pre-Age Pension’ payment? Do you think it should do what it can to retain the higher rate of JobSeeker payments? What provisos would you place on this happening?
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