It was a case of speak first, think later when Minster for Families, Jenny Macklin answered the question on whether she could live on the Newstart Allowance with “I could”. She now faces a challenge to do just that, with acting Greens leader Adam Brandt calling for the Minister to join him as he plans to live on $35 per day for one week in February.
Changes to the Parenting Payment rules which came into effect on 1 January will see single parents – most of them women – moved from the payment to Newstart Allowance once their youngest child turns eight. This is a move to encourage more mothers into the workforce and save the Government $728 million over four years. The result is that those moved to the Newstart Allowance could find themselves $60 to $110 per week worse off, with Newstart paying just $492 per fortnight.
Ms Macklin’s office initially tried to cover up her response by releasing a transcript which claimed the audio could not be clearly heard, but as many media organisations picked up her response, this was pointless. Her ‘gaff’ highlights just how far removed Australia’s politicians are from reality. With a daily salary of $903 per day, Ms Macklin cannot imagine what it would be like to feed, clothe and house a family on $492. Of course, she has studied and worked hard to reach her position and while no one would deny her the right to earn this amount of money, she should not be so dismissive of how this change will affect the 80,000 single parents who will no longer qualify for the Parenting Payment.
Pre-retirees and pensioners understand all to well the difficulty of trying to survive on inadequate benefit payments. A single Age Pensioner on a full pension receives only $55 per day, while a single person over 60 who has not yet reached Age Pension age receives just $38 per day under Newstart.
Would living on $35 per day for one week give Ms Macklin a better understanding of how people struggle financially? Or would it be a hollow gesture?