Jobless seniors face health risks

The health of unemployed Australians is being compromised by the paucity of the Newstart payment, the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) believes.

Lifting the payment by $75 a week would help reduce the risk of chronic disease and mental illness among the poorest citizens, according to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS).

CHF, which is backing ACOSS’s ‘Raise the rate’ campaign, says the Government’s own reports supported the view that raising Newstart by $75 a week would “yield widespread health benefits”. 

Currently, the Newstart allowance, including the energy supplement, is $277.40 a week. The allowance increases to $345 for a single person who does not own a home when rent assistance is included.

A single age pensioner who rents can expect a maximum of $521.20 a week, or $176.20 a week more than an unemployed person aged less than 65.

Older Australians who have not reached the Age Pension age and who cannot find work are forced onto the Newstart payment.

Among the personal hardship stories shared by ACOSS is one of a former nurse in her 60s who is now unemployed.

“You can’t live on Newstart,” says Ellen, 61, who is caring for two children. “I eat one meal a day so the kids can eat. My sweet girl says I should eat more. I was a nurse for 27 years. All my savings have gone. I’m in so much debt. I try my best but feel so ashamed.”

CHF chief executive Leanne Wells is calling on all sides of politics to act on the evidence that people in poverty are much more likely to suffer poor health and have a higher risk of chronic disease and mental illness.

“The latest official report on the nation’s health, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Australia’s Health 2018, states that action on the social determinants of health such as socio-economic status, ‘is an appropriate way to tackle unfair and avoidable health inequalities’,” Ms Wells said.

“The report cites one study’s estimate that if action were taken on social determinants – and the health gaps between the most and least disadvantaged closed – half a million Australians could be spared chronic illness, $2.3 billion in annual hospital costs could be saved, and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescription numbers cut by 5.3 million.

“As the World Health Organisation has declared, people with lower incomes typically have less money to spend on taking care of themselves, whether paying for visits to the doctor, medicine, or healthy food.

“Stress associated with a lower income, especially during childhood, increases risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

“Despite Australia’s record-breaking 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth, about 13 per cent of Australians were estimated to be in relative income poverty in 2013-14, a figure that has changed little over the past 10 years,” Ms Wells said.

“It’s time to Raise the Rate of Newstart by $75.”

Would you be able to live on $345 a week if you didn’t own a home? Do you think an extra $75 a week for Newstart recipients is enough? Have you ever had to forego healthcare because you could not afford it?

Written by Olga Galacho

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