One in nine people in our area could lose their Jobseeker welfare supplement at the end of next month.
In the Page electorate almost 18,000 people receive Jobseeker payments of $715 a fortnight. That includes the $150 supplement brought in during the covid lockdown in March last year.
The federal government is considering options on reducing welfare payments and possibly taking it back to the pre-covid $565 a fortnight – or $40.36 a day from next month.
For people like Jane* it is going to hit hard. At 62, she lives alone in her own home in a remote part of Kyogle LGA. She has a permanent back injury and despite trying several times, cannot get a disability pension. She won’t get an age pension until 67 and in the meantime is considered eligible for work.
Her Jobseeker money, even with the covid top-up, is mainly spent on bills, rates, car registration and home insurance.
She has chickens, ducks and a cat and grows her own vegetables to save money.
“If it wasn’t for Foodbank, I would have gone without food,” Jane said.
She lives frugally and when the extra $150 a fortnight came in last year, she was able to buy some new clothes for the first time in years.
“I usually shop at the op shop,” she said.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed that coronavirus supplement recipients were far more likely to spend their supplement on household bills, groceries, rent or a mortgage than save it.
Jane is worried about her welfare payment going back to $40 a day.
“Back to what it was 27 years ago, and well below the poverty line,” she said.
Meanwhile everything has gone up in price – grain for her chickens, cat food and petrol.
The cycle of poverty hits hard on people like Jane. She can’t afford to go to the osteopath and has to deal with sadness and depression, she said.
“It’s not my fault I’m in this position,” Jane said. She knows of many women over 50 living out of their cars.
Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland said Kyogle was one of the least well off LGAs in the state and pursuing a job while living on $40 a day was unrealistic.
“For people living in rural communities with little public transport available, I’d like to see them receive an additional ‘remote’ allowance to help to compensate them. Put in place programs that will help people living in remote and rural communities, so their chances of getting a job are much higher,” Ms Mulholland said.
With rising rents across the region, the cuts will hit people who are already disadvantaged.
“People need hope.”
“They need to able to look for a job with at least some hope of finding one. How can they find one if they can’t afford to buy a car, pay registration, insurance etc? That $40 a day is going to go towards essential living expenses. There’s a difference between surviving and living. And on $40 a day, jobseekers are surviving and just barely.”
Momentum Collective in Casino said there were concerns the cuts to payments would see more local families and businesses under financial pressure.
“The Casino Neighbourhood Centre has seen a recent increase in requests for people at risk of homelessness,” a spokeswoman said.
*name changed for privacy reasons
Business and services to feel the blow
The impending cut to Jobseeker isn’t only about the hardship those on $40 a day will endure. More than a million dollars a week will be pulled out of our local economy if Jobseeker returns to pre-covid levels.
An announcement is expected in the next week on changes to Jobseeker payments.
“This will have a ripple on effect for local businesses, and our local economies throughout the LGA. If people don’t even have money for the essentials, how can they have money for the extras?” Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland said.
“We encourage people to shop locally but if your wallet is empty, there’s nothing to spend.”
“I expect local shops in Kyogle and the villages will feel the pinch, which is a shame as they are just starting to recover from the bushfires.”
Ms Mulholland said more social housing was needed to ease the situation for those looking for work.
“Kyogle Council is lobbying for this as we are well under the state average provision of social housing. We also need private investment to make housing available for rentals,” she said.
“We have done everything we can to make it as easy as possible for those developers to invest in our area and we are starting to see these policies come to fruition with a couple of housing developments already underway.”
Not enough workers
Federal MP Kevin Hogan said the biggest issue was that small businesses in the community cannot find workers. This goes from retail and hospitality to tradies.
“I literally speak to small businesses every day that say they cannot get enough staff,” Mr Hogan said.
“Rolling off what were always temporary payments and supplements will hopefully help this situation.”
Every Thursday, Mr Hogan posts on his Facebook Page at least one job that is open. On February 11 he had NRMA Casino looking for salespeople and the NRLX advertising positions at the saleyards.
On February 4, a job opening for a skilled cabinetmaker was posted.
When the Independent rang the cabinetmaker company on Monday, the owner said there had been little interest and the position had not been filled.
The NRMA job had 33 applicants.
Mr Hogan said most people receiving payments such as Newstart were eligible for rent relief and families received Family Tax Benefit payments as well.
According to the ABS, the most recent figures showed total national job vacancies for the November quarter were 254,400. At the same time, the number of unemployed people looking for work was 877,500 – almost four people per job vacancy.
And in skilled jobs, such as cabinetmakers, the person needs the right qualifications and experience to apply.
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This article appeared in the Richmond River Independent, 17 February 2021.