As the 2009 Federal Budget approaches, the fate of millions of pensioners hangs in the balance. The plight of aged pensioners in particular has captured the attention of the nation’s media. But in fact there is a broader crisis also affecting the disabled, carers, students, sole parents and the unemployed.
This paper is one last call to the Federal Government to enact comprehensive reform in the provision of pensions.
With only a few days to go, however, the findings of the government’s Pension Review have not even been made public. Indeed, upon calling the relevant help line, I was informed that the release of the Review’s report would only be released “at the Minister’s discretion” and indeed that it may not be released at all.
Meanwhile the circumstances I considered a few months ago in the Left Focus blog are still pressing and urgent.
The ranks of the unemployed are set to swell. The ABC has reported that the unemployment rate could rise to more than 1 million, or 8.5 per cent, in 2010. If the plight of aged pensioners is already an urgent matter of public interest, so too are the straits of the unemployed.
Nevertheless, while the Newstart payment for unemployed singles is $453.30 a fortnight, the single aged pension is $569.80. That’s a difference of more than $100 per fortnight. The National Welfare Rights Network has projected that a $30 increase to the Newstart and Youth Allowances would cost $800 million.
Assuming that these payments were brought “in line” with other pensions, after these had been raised by $30 a week, the cost would be in the vicinity of $3.2 billion.
This sounds daunting - but again - such figures must be taken in the context of an economy of over $1 trillion.
Wayne Swan is avoiding being “pinned down” emphasising the need for “responsible” financial management. There have been rumours suggesting that there will be a “scaled back” payment of an additional $20 a week for aged pensioners to pay for an increase to Newstart.
The Greens, in particular, have been concerned that pensioners of all types should not be divided against each other. Regarding aged pensioners and the unemployed, Bob Brown has suggested that it is a false dichotomy that we must choose “one or the other”.
In the context of a rising cost of living, though, there is a strong case for a significant increase in the base rate for aged pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, sole parents and also the unemployed.
Students, meanwhile, should also receive additional support so they are financially able to devote their full attention to study.
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