There are times when I’m grateful my conventional working life is behind me and I can wait (patiently) for the next humble pension payment. My needs are small – I can sit on the front veranda with a cup of coffee made on our machine for about 15 cents, enjoy my banana toasty, share the crumbs with the birds and do the crossword. Some may call me a leaner, but I’ve done my share of lifting, mate.
Meanwhile, out there in the thrust and parry world of staying in work, where HR is a growth industry, workers are lobbying for their next short-term contract, working out how long their redundancy payment will last or (forgive me for thinking this), shafting a colleague so they can get a better-paid job. Some, who make life plans based on aforementioned contracts, find said agreements withdrawn without notice for budgetary reasons. Yep, the veranda is better.
For one thing, the pension is linked to wage increases, which is more than you can say for Newstart (Australia’s unemployment benefit), which is indexed to the CPI. The September indexation will be calculated at 0.18%, which, on the single/childless fortnightly rate, is less than $1.
Surveys have repeatedly told the government of the day that half the 700,000 Australians who rely on Newstart are living below the poverty line. A 2015 study found that on any given day there were fewer than 10 rental properties in Australia that were affordable for people on the allowance.
Australian Council of Social Services chief executive office Cassandra Goldie told New Matilda the Newstart payment ($527.60 per fortnight for singles without children), had not seen a real increase since the Keating years (1991-1996). The major parties seem disinclined to increase the allowance, even when prompted by the Business Council of Australia. In 2013 the Greens lobbied for a $50 per week increase but failed to find sufficient parliamentary support.
This is a shameful state of affairs, the iniquities of which were plainly stated by Asylum Seeker Resource Centre founder Kon Karapanagiotidis. He tweeted on a Q&A TV debate about welfare that what a politician could claim for one night for staying in Canberra for work was equivalent to an entire week on Newstart. The Conversation fact-checked this statement and found it to be fundamentally true.
It might not seem like much, but after September 20 (next Tuesday), Newstart recipients will lose the twice-yearly $105.80 “income support bonus” added by Labor as part of its “Spreading the Benefits of Boom” package. In 2013, the Coalition announced the bonus would be scrapped from a range of benefits as Labor had funded it through the minerals resource rent tax (which the Coalition has since abolished). The Palmer United Party agreed to the bonus being scrapped on the condition it stayed until after the (July 2016) election. So rather than increasing this egregiously low payment, the Coalition is (let’s use a Tele headline word here), slashing it an amount which for a single person on Newstart provided a choice between a bacon and egg burger, a subsidised prescription, a pot of beer or an escapist video to watch after the Saturday ritual of circling jobs in the newspaper that by Monday will have already gone.
The ABC reported yesterday that Australia’s unemployment rate had dropped from 5.7% to 5.6%, but the rate of part-time work remains at an all-time high.
Since December 2015 there are now 105,300 more persons working part-time, compared with a 21,500 decrease in those working full-time.
In this country, part-time employment is defined as people in employment who usually work less than 30 hours.
The Australian (owned by an expatriate billionaire well-known for expecting senior employees to work long hours for a fixed salary), wrote that part-time work was ‘good for the over-40s’.
Economist Jim Stanford of the Australian Institute’s Centre for Future Work told the ABC in July the proportion of Australians working part-time has now reached a record 31.9%.
“Australia’s part-time employment rate has surged 4 percentage points since the GFC (2007) and is now the third highest in the OECD,” he said.
There are a few questions we should be asking about part-time work, chiefly: can you live on part-time income? If you are working part-time, is it by choice, or is that all you could find? Inter alia, did you know if you are on Newstart, and have found a part-time job as dish pig at a local café, you can earn up to $104 per fortnight before the allowance is affected? Break out the wine cask.
Let’s just imagine life on Newstart (equivalent to a night’s claimable accommodation for a working politician, remember?)
You are a 40-something male that has been “let go” – the latest in a succession of jobs that did not work out. You’ve spent your payout and your second wife has booted you out. You spend all day in the public library job-hunting, playing Solitaire and scribbling calculations on how you can live on $263.80 a week. A mate has rented you his caravan down the end of the paddock for $140 a week. Bargain. That leaves $123.80 for food and petrol (did I mention the caravan is 16 kms from town?)
Meanwhile, the rego is due, there was a letter in the mail with a photograph of you doing 122 kms in a 110 kms zone and then there is the dentist, who reckons you need two crowns and two root canal treatments.
You buy a packet of Panadol max and wash a couple down with the last lukewarm stubbie in the 20-year-old caravan fridge. Life’s great, isn’t it?
Australian society seems sharply divided between those who’d feel sorry for this fictional fellow’s plight and donate money to Lifeline and the hard-liners who’d say he’s a leaner who brought it all on himself (and how come he can afford beer?)
We need, if I may use a corporate weasel-word, a new paradigm. A UK think tank, the New Economics Foundation, proposed a utopian scenario for Europe that envisaged a society where those who can work are engaged for 20 hours a week. Anna Coote of NEF said there would be more jobs to go around, energy-hungry consumption would be curbed and workers could spend more time with their families. The model already exists in Germany and the Netherlands, the latter topping the OECD chart for part-time work. Coote mused about the rationale around jobs and growth and whether aiming to boost (insert country of choice) GDP growth rate should be a government’s first priority.
“There’s a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work and those who have got too little or none.”
The Guardian’s Heather Stewart cited Keynesian economist Robert Skidelsky, who co-wrote a book with his son Edward: “How Much Is Enough?’ Skidelsky said the ‘civilised’ solution to technological change and fewer jobs is work-sharing and a legislated maximum working week.
There’s much need for a quantum shift/new paradigm, with youth unemployment at 13.2% in the UK and between 25% and 50% in seven Eurozone.countries.
It would not take much imagination to export these Eurozone ideas to Oceania (where youth unemployment is running at 13.5%).
Unhappily, Canberra’s politicians seem entirely lacking in imagination and worse, bereft of social conscience.
All 225 Federal politicians and Senators should think about this social issue on September 20, particularly if they are claiming overnight accommodation. Do claimable expenses run to the mini bar?