‘Give the battlers a big boost’ Cassandra Goldie – The Daily Telegraph – Tuesday January 9, 2024

Anthony Albanese has asked the treasury and finance department to come up with ways to provide cost of living relief in the May budget. But the most effective strategy is already right in front of him. The government’s own Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s first recommendation is for a substantial and ongoing increase to Jobseeker and related payments.

ACOSS recommends lifting Jobseeker from just $54 to the pension rate of $78 per day once and for all. When the Covid supplement nearly doubled income support payments, 646,000 people – including 245,000 children – were pulled out of poverty. But when the supplement ended in April 2021, people were forced to once again choose between essentials.

Almost three in four people receiving income support are eating less or skipping meals – and cutting back on cooling their homes – due to the low rate of payments and rising cost of living. The PM has voiced concern that “distributing cash” will worsen inflation. But prominent economists such as Chris Richardson say welfare can be raised without stoking it.

People on income support are not the ones fuelling price rises. They are not going on holiday, buying private education or eating out in restaurants. They are struggling to survive. Deliberately keeping them hungry and homeless as a way of managing the economy is unconscionable. If the PM really wants to tackle inflation, he should scrap the stage three tax cuts, which will pump about $20 billion into the economy and give an extra $9000 a year to those in the very highest incomes.

The government should also do more on tackling energy prices. The Prime Minister must resist pressure to spread help to people who are doing relatively well and keep targeting those most in need. To permanently reduce bills, help solve the climate crisis, and ensure that cheaper, renewable energy is accessible to everyone, the government must invest in efficiency upgrades and solar installations in social and low-income housing. It should also mandate energy efficiency standards in private rentals.

Soaring housing costs must also be addressed. In the past 12 months average rents have increased $100 a week. The case for properly lifting rent assistance is compelling, alongside increasing Jobseeker. The government should also ease the rental crisis by denying tax deductions to landlords who rent their properties as short-term tourist accommodation. Longer-term relief should be pursued by rapidly building more social housing, limiting negative gearing and reducing the capital gains discount.

When the Prime Minister considers his relief package, we urge him to remember his 2022 election campaign slogan: “No one held back, no one left behind.” A serious cost of living package must target the people who need the PM’s help the most, people who are unable to meet the essentials of life and are being left the furthest behind.

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