For over a decade the adequacy of Newstart and related payments has been called into question. With no increase in material terms since 1994, the wider community has joined the community sector, businesses and economists in arguing for an increase to payments and a review of the supports available to jobseekers. This is the context in which the committee began this inquiry, which gathered considerable evidence from over 450 submitters and witnesses, including organisations, academics, state and local governments, as well as many private individuals who receive income support payments between July 2019 and February 2020.
The evidence discussed throughout the report was received prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of the pandemic on people's social and professional lives have been unprecedented and are still unfolding. The measures put in place across the globe to stop the spread of the virus are having direct and profound impacts on the economy and employment in every country, including Australia. While the committee acknowledges that the Australian Government's economic response has included measures to assist existing income support recipients and newly unemployed people, these measures are currently time-limited. As such, the findings of this inquiry are highly relevant today and into the future beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Importantly, the findings and recommendations discussed in this report can assist in the development of appropriate policies and programs to support the anticipated increased number of jobseekers due to the COVID-19 crisis beyond the temporary measures put in place by the government.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government set a national definition of poverty. The Government should immediately commence work in collaboration with academic experts and the community sector to determine this definition.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately undertake a review of the income support system to ensure that all eligible income support recipients do not live in poverty.
- The committee recommends the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to ensure immediate increases in funding for emergency relief housing and social housing.