Monday, January 28, 2013

Macklin starving for credibility

Vanguard February 2013
Bill F.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin has crawled deeper into the slime that flowed from the brutal Northern Territory intervention and the extension of ‘income management’ to other indigenous groups across Australia.

This time she has found a new minority group to sacrifice to the Gillard government’s budget surplus mantra and neo-liberal social engineering policies – single parents, overwhelmingly women.

Since January 1st, more than 80,000 single parents have been shifted from the parenting allowance to the miserable Newstart unemployment allowance. For many this means the abrupt loss of $110 a week, a small fortune for people already struggling with rising rents, the cost of food and utilities, the school and clothing cost of growing families. Their pain will save the government around $700 million.

On top of this, the Pension Concession Card that allowed access to cheaper medications through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was also withdrawn.

As a final insult, Macklin shamelessly declared that the changes were designed to “... to help people get into work”, and that she could live on the $35 a day Newstart allowance. Coming from a cabinet minister on $6321 a week, 25 times the rate of Newstart, this assertion drew howls of criticism from the community sector and wider sections of the people.

Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Service has pointed out that recipients of the parenting allowance were already required to seek work, and many were already doing some paid work. “The only thing that’s going to change for them is a significant cut in their income support, and we oppose putting any other parent on to a payment which everybody acknowledges is already far too low”.

Newstart poverty trap


Indeed, Macklin’s pronouncement has focussed attention on the pitiful Newstart allowance of $245 per week, which hasn’t increased in real terms for 20 years. It comes at a time of rising unemployment and much greater difficulty for working people seeking secure jobs.

Welfare groups, unions, churches and community organisations have all campaigned for an increase in Newstart payments over many years, only to meet with government indifference and the scornful assertion that the unemployed have only themselves to blame.

Now they have been joined by the reactionary Business Council of Australia, mouthpiece of the biggest 100 companies operating in Australia, many of them international corporations or monopoly groups. Their motivation is hardly a sudden onrush of compassion. Rather, they want to have the working class competing for jobs and driving down wages, not just surviving on subsistence money. “Trying to survive on $35 a day is likely to erode the capacity of individuals to present themselves well or maintain their readiness for work.” Chief executive of the Business Council, Jennifer Westacott, said in a statement last year that “entrenching people into poverty by expecting them to live on $35 a day is not a pathway back into employment”.

The storm of protest that followed Macklin has forced her to concede “I acknowledge my remarks were insensitive, that I could’ve been clearer in the way that I expressed myself.” Oh, it’s clear enough, Jenny. You’re not going to reverse the government decision and you’re certainly not going to support the Greens push for a $50 per week increase in Newstart funded by a return to the Rudd-era mining super-profits tax.

This is in spite of Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan abandoning the budget surplus agenda, the original excuse for the single parent allowance cuts.

Demands for better welfare payments will feature in this election year, and the government could well be forced to move on Newstart as the people’s campaign builds up.  

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