Families Minister Jenny Macklin claims she could swap her $6000 weekly salary for the $35-a-day Newstart allowance and still make ends meet.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin claims she could swap her $6000 weekly salary for the $35-a-day Newstart allowance and still make ends meet. ALAN PORRITT

Going on the dole isn't a job alternative

FEDERAL Families Minister Jenny Macklin didn't have the best start to 2013.

Her claims she could swap her $6000 weekly salary for the $35-a-day Newstart allowance and still make ends meet were met with cries of derision from all corners.

Her claims came after the government announced sweeping cuts to parenting payments, effective January 1 this year, which will reduce weekly payments by up to $110 and save the government about $700million over the next four years.

The government is insistent the cuts will get more people into work, while Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten last year raised concerns about low payment rates, a concern echoed by welfare groups.

And herein lies something of a dichotomy.

Newstart - better known as the dole - isn't, and should never be seen as, an alternative to finding a job. It's an emergency payment intended as a bridging mechanism between jobs.

It shouldn't be viewed as an income. Therefore, it shouldn't be enough to live comfortably on. It should be enough to make ends meet for the short term.

If the dole is too close to the minimum wage what incentive is there to find work? If the options were to find a minimum wage job and work a 40-hour week, or work zero hours and claim almost the same income via Newstart, which will people choose?

But the opposite also rings true - if the dole is too low, claimants can't afford to pay rent, the mortgage, grocery, power or water bills and so on. If they can't afford to feed their children, how much time will they spend looking for work?

Thirty-five dollars a day is a pittance. Less than the daily interest on my mortgage and therefore definitely not enough for me to live on.

The prospect of trying to live on $35 a day would be more than enough to have me willing to take any work I could find.

The alternative is not being able to feed, clothe and house my family. On that, I have to agree with Ms Macklin, who said there needs to be a strong incentive for people to find work.

"The more that people go back to work, the better," she said.

"It's better for the family, it's great for the kids to see mum and/or dad or both going to work.

"Unfortunately, we have far too many children growing up in Australia where nobody is working."

There needs to be incentive, but there also needs to be support mechanisms, like Newstart, to help people through the tough times.


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