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Unhappy New Year Jobseekers: Government dumping people in difficulty

Written by: John G. on 17 January 2021


The Government celebrated the end of 2020 by slashing assistance to the unemployed and underemployed.

With these cutbacks and the cuts made in September, they increased the numbers of Australians in poverty by more than a half a million in the middle of the worst economic crisis in decades, if not half a century, according to reliable estimates from The Australia Institute*. Predictably the Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen with the formal announcement of the second slashing of the Jobseeker supplement.

NSW police talk to people in a queue outside a Centrelink office in Sydney as jobs evaporate. Credit:Nick Moir   SMH

Social Services Minister Ann Ruston Minister mimicked Monty Python’s Holy Grail Black Knight, when she tried to deny the reality, a drop of the supplement by $350, saying to call it “any cut is not correct”. What does she think it is?  In the grand tradition of snake oil sellers she spun it as “continuation of elevated levels of support”. Nasty lying piffle.

The Prime Minister’s and the Minister’s denials cold-heartedly pull the rug from under 10% of the workforce, sending them hurtling towards poverty.

Unemployment peaking, childcare support slashed, mortgage support reduced, Eviction ban lifted
With its September reduction of the jobseeker supplement from $500 to $250 per fortnight, the government shoved 370,000 people right into poverty.

In an act of sheer bastardry, the government handed the unemployed an unhappy New Year with a cut in the supplement again. Another 190,000 people are being hurled into the depths of poverty. The worst impacts will be felt in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, where each state will each see another 50,000 people driven into penury.

No reaching behind to help the beleaguered in our communities to climb above the flood of poverty threatening them, just the Treasury clambering onto their shoulders to prop up the budget while tossing billions at big businesses. 

This government will have achieved a magnificent outcome of dumping 580,000 people into poverty over 4 months as unemployment peaks, they ended free childcare for huge numbers, the economy miles down on activity last year, and job prospects becoming darker by the day after a mild fillip as lockdowns eased. 

Add in reduction in mortgage holidays, eviction bans, removal of bankruptcy protections from small business and the consequent redundancies and closures due to hit in the New Year, and these people have been condemned to very hard times impacting them over the next few months.

Government overcomes fear of unemployed rising
The government has overcome their March 2020 fright when they saw 5 million being thrown out of work, kilometre-long queues snaking away from Centrelink offices across the country, and large numbers of people just one payday away from poverty.

The fright was amplified by Morrison’s scars from his leadership failures in the bushfire period, to an extent limiting how many workers the government could abandon to carry the largest initial burden and hardships of the crisis.

Recognising how many ordinary workers were lining up to experience for the first time the horribly punitive Centrelink systems for themselves, the government quickly shelved their tightwad neo-liberal ideology. They splurged to ease the hardships and divert subsidies of up to 4 million workers to bosses through the Tax Office. Those workers have had virtually no personal dealings with Government at all.

That left about 2 million or so in the hands of Centrelink, and now suffering in the worst of the cutbacks. They are carrying the biggest part of the burden of the crisis, hitting younger, female, and poorly unionised workforces, in particular.

Others, including refugees and visa workers, have been without any government support throughout.

The ‘targetting’ of support to the permanently employed, and partially cushioning the impacts on some of the unemployed, was cynically calculated by government and business as limiting the outrage, and it has. 

Food delivery workers and supporters place demands on Deliveroo. Photo: Worker Student Alliance facebook page

Expanded government supplements to the working class’s income, to an extent, has sustained living standards through a period of Covid-lowered economic activity.

Government: Back to the Business of Business
Wage levels and jobs of the permanently employed were sustained, millions of unemployed were paid higher supports, productive output generally reduced, government supplements to the working class increased. Less of the values produced in society have been left for capitalist accumulation in general. Hundreds of billions in business support payments have shown something of the level of the ‘costs’ to business accumulation the government has been trying to offset.

Now, with further calculation and extensive preparation, government is turning back to the business of business. At its core is setting out for revival of capital accumulation by business through exploitation and slashing diversion through government support for workers and the unemployed. Capitalist accumulation is dependent on minimising wages and focussed now on cutting down government supplements to the working class, as they engage with producing and consuming commodities.

The Working Class: Back to the Business of Standing Up for Itself
The working class confronts difficult circumstances. We never get anywhere by simply pleading or arguing the justice of the case to the tin ears of big businesses.

History is clear. If you don’t fight you lose!

The international capitalist economy is still stumbling along with unresolved problems hanging over from the global financial crisis. Interest rates wallow at levels not experienced in living memory, reflecting excess production and oversupplied markets despite the Covid disruptions to production. Inter-imperialist tensions are rising in the wake of US economic and military dominance ebbing alongside the rise of the Germany-France Axis and China.

Organisation of the working class for the struggles ahead is limited, as is leadership which is prepared and readying the class to stand up for itself. Too many who offer leadership are timeservers, opportunists using the workers to advance themselves, straight out profiteers, and many others looking to ease the workers' burdens, but unable to break from capitalism's restrictions to advance the cause.    

In the throes of the hardships unleashed on January 1 by government, and the huge weight of unemployment and underemployment, people are being roused.

The government paid the working class the great compliment of fearing any mobilisation of workers for themselves in the early days of the Covid crisis. They are right to be wary. There are millions of us and very few of them and their greedy opportunist champions in government, commentariat and treacherous organisations.

The workers and others have mobilised in the Covid crisis and done magnificently providing for, caring for, and protecting our communities. This has been done in the face of Covid and capitalist cries to open society to higher risks of unleashing the virus so they can revive their exploitation in industries suppressed by distancing and other measures.

Nudges to organise and mobilise in action against the heartache of the hardships people are facing and currently experiencing, have not penetrated deeply into the working class, despite moves like the Raise the Rate Campaign of the Australian Council of Social Services, and the less prominent Living Income For Everyone community campaign. Days of Action have mobilised some media and activity at organisational levels, but not engaged the masses. The prospects for mass mobilisations have been heightened with the latest assaults.

Working people and the oppressed shouldn’t pay the price for capitalism’s recovery. The time to lift the fight, to agitate, educate, organise and mobilise in action, is now.  

Slashing support of the Jobless and Underemployed
The government slashed the once $550 supplement up to September down to $150 per fortnight from 1 January for 1.3 million Australians completely out of employment.

The Jobkeeper payment is being cut from $750 a week to September to $600 in October with a whole lot more qualifications, and down to $500 a week as the New Year breaks. That $250 a week cut hits 1.6 million workers. 

They slashed it down to $150 per fortnight, a cut of 70% in the supplement over the last 4 months of the year.

Changes to JobKeeper scheme qualifications saw numbers on it drop from 3.6 million in September to just 1.5 million in October, some with rebounding business as lockdowns eased, others as businesses adjusted to lower commercial activity and dumped staff. The dumped staff are joining the Jobseeker queues. The government is preparing to close Jobkeeper at the end of March.  

*The figures used in the Australia Institute research were arrived at by the Australia Institute using the ABS Household Income survey and modelling using the Henderson poverty line developed by the Melbourne Institute, applied differentially to differing household scenarios. By way of example, for a single person the poverty line used was $440.23 a week, for an unemployed couple the poverty line used was $623.58, and where one of the couple was in work, $726.27 per week after tax, including paying for housing out of that. For an unemployed single parent with two children, the level used is $740.95.

See also 

Grudnoff M (2020) Poverty and a reduced Coronavirus Supplement: If the coronavirus supplement is reduced to $150 per fortnight, 190,000 people will be pushed below the poverty line including 50,000 children, The Australia Institute, 18 November




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