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Misha Schubert and Stephanie Peatling
May 20, 2012

Many Labor MPs believe the $245 weekly unemployment benefit payment is too low.Many Labor MPs believe the $245 weekly unemployment benefit payment is too low. Photo: Virginia Star

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard faces a growing push from Labor MPs to raise the dole, with warnings it is so low that people are being forced into poverty and even turning to crime.

A quarter of the Labor backbench have told The Sunday Age in the past week that $245 a week is too little to live on – a stance backed by conservative economic commentators and business groups.

”Anyone can end up on welfare given changed circumstances and bad luck, and the Labor Party should always have in its eye that people who fall on hard times can live with some dignity and respect,” New South Wales senator Doug Cameron said.

Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin even called for a welfare summit, like last year’s tax summit, to examine the entire system of payments and allowances.

Victorian Labor MP Darren Cheeseman said the dole – which is $133 a week less than the age pension and $344 a week below the minimum wage – was so low people couldn’t afford to get to job interviews or present well at them. Increasingly, they were people who had worked for decades before losing a job.

”And when you get into pockets of poverty … what I am being presented with is people saying they think their neighbours have turned to crime to make ends meet and they wouldn’t normally do that,” he said.

Tasmanian Dick Adams said it was ”really hard to manage” on so little money. ”If you’re on it for 12 months, that’d be pretty difficult,” he said.

Laurie Ferguson from NSW said when even people who had jobs were complaining about the rising cost of living, ”just imagine how hard it is for people on the dole”.

Labor said in the budget two weeks ago that it would push 100,000 single mothers off parenting payments and onto the dole once their youngest child turned eight. Such families will be $120 a fortnight worse off. That move has stirred anew the debate on the dole.

The push includes many from the Labor Left, but some right-wing MPs concede they are also concerned. Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said her community was telling her the dole was too low, and she would convey that to ministers. One figure on the Right who did not want to be named said it was ”vexing” that Labor had joined the orthodoxy of ”stigmatising” people on the dole.

Yet other MPs on the Right such as Joel Fitzgibbon, Nick Champion and Chris Hayes did not back a rise, saying the best form of welfare was a job. ”People aren’t knocking down the door saying Newstart is too low,” Mr Hayes said.

Some senior government figures privately concede the dole is too low but say a rise cannot be afforded.

Over the past six months, an unlikely chorus of conservative political figures and economists has emerged to declare the dole inadequate. They include conservative economists Judith Sloan and Ian Harper, and Liberal stalwart Hugh Morgan.

Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott told The Sunday Age there was a ”crude view that somehow if you make payments really inadequate that’s an incentive to get back into work. Well, $50 a week is hardly going to change someone’s views about work incentives.

”People have lost their confidence and their health. They don’t have money to get to interviews; they don’t have clothes,” she said.

Welfare groups have long been pushing for a $50 a week boost to Newstart, which has not had a real increase – one above inflation – since 1994.

MPs concerned about the changes plan to raise the issue again on Tuesday in Labor caucus.

”If you’ve got senior business people saying it’s not sufficient, that makes it clear something’s got to be done,” Illawarra-based MP Stephen Jones said.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/labor-mps-push-for-dole-increase-20120519-1yxtq.html#ixzz1vO643faK

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