Welcome comrades, if you are reading this you’re probably considering contacting the Maribyrnong council in regards to their vote on the Newstart payment on 24/4/18.
Below is the email template the Union has used to reach out to the councillors, please feel free to use it as a basis for your own emails. In particular you may want to replace the personal accounts below with some of your own experiences. Please when addressing our councillors, keep your tone polite and avoid aggression; while those in government often deserve the worst of our bile we need to keep them onside when asking for their support, and in the case of local council our representatives are very much removed from the legislative conditions we suffer under.
We all make this union what it is, so we need to project our best selves, keep it fiesty but keep it civil.
I am writing on behalf of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union in regards to a motion being put by Cr Simon Crawford at the next Maribyrnong City Council meeting.
As a member of the AUWU I wanted to start by thanking yourself and the council for considering this important issue, with special relevance to the low-income and disadvantaged residents of Maribyrnong City. Furthermore I wish to put forward the AUWU’s position as to why you should vote in favour of this motion.
Newstart at $269 per week, is $177 per week below the Henderson poverty-line. It is less than 41 percent of the minimum wage, less than 18 percent of the average wage, and has not been raised in real terms for 23 years.
The Newstart payment is the second lowest in the developed world.
An Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) survey of 600 Newstart recipients in 2015 reported:
• 40% are unable to pay their bills on time or see a dentist;
• 50% are unable to raise $2,000 in the event of an emergency;
• 50% are turning off heating and cooling to save money;
• 32% skipped meals in the previous year;
• 25% are suffering from “housing crisis” — spending more than half their income on rent; and
• 20% do not have enough money for essentials like housing, food and electricity.
One of the reasons Newstart is so low, is that traditionally it was meant as a ‘temporary payment’. However, going by figures the government released in 2013, the average time spent on Newstart is over four years. This is largely due to the lack of jobs available. According to the latest government data, there are 2.8 million people competing for only 180,000 jobs. Newstart has become a one way ticket to poverty.
The low rate of Newstart is major factor that pushes people into homelessness. According to a 2017 study by Anglicare, only .03% of properties on the market are affordable for a single person living on Newstart.
There is also a growing problem of Newstart recipients with disabilities being unable to afford the medicines they need. 25% of Newstart recipients have a diagnosed disability. This is because of significant attacks over the past several years on the ability to access the Disability Support Pension (DSP).
Increasing the Newstart rate to the Henderson Poverty Line ($1026.24 per fortnight) – the most reliable and regularly updated measure of poverty in Australia – will go a long way to giving Newstart recipients control over their lives and helping them out of poverty.
Council Benefits of Raising Newstart:
Increasing Newstart would benefit local economies, by increasing the spending power of those on low incomes, whose extra funds would circulate through local businesses. It would also reduce the strain on Council community services assisting the growing number of people experiencing hardship, particularly homelessness. Experts in this area frequently point out that the low rate of Newstart contributes to crime, mental health issues, and creates an extra strain on council and health services.
Increasing Newstart would not only help people into employment, but create a more prosperous community. In the council area, there are thousands of unemployed people that need representation in the your council
There is growing concern about the low rate of Newstart amongst the community. In the petition work we have done on increasing Newstart in the area, the vast majority of people have voiced strong concern about the low rate of Newstart. The rate of signatures we received on our petition calling on your council to advocate for an increase was about 10 per hour. These will be presented to the council.
The Business Council of Australia has advocated to the Federal government that the low rate of Newstart is a barrier to employment and risks entrenching poverty. Auditing company KPMG and the OECD have also advocated for an increase in Newstart, as well as the community sector.
Already there is a ground swell of local councils who have taken up this issue. Ten local councils in South Australia have added their voices to the chorus of business, union and welfare groups which have called for Newstart to be increased. The South Australian councils which have passed motions are Adelaide, Clare and Gilbert Valley, Copper Coast, Kangaroo Island, Mount Gambier, Onkaparinga, Playford, Port Adelaide Enfield, Salisbury, and Streaky Bay. Recently in Victoria the Moreland Council passed the motion too.
The more councils who adopt this demand, the more pressure can be applied on the Federal government. I hope Maribyrnong can join them.
Below are some personal stories from Newstart recipients:
“I often have to skip breakfast and lunch every day in order to save money. I do not feel I eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables; I look for specials and Black and Gold products. Nutrition never enters into what I buy, how cheap it is the only thing I’m capable of buying. If my income was higher, I would be able to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, things other than frozen products; I would buy more food in general if I could afford it.
I think every day about my finances. I’m living from hand to mouth without any chance to save or prepare for the future.
Very rarely am I able to see my family and friends … my family lives in a different state and I haven’t seen them in about two years due to being unable to afford the travel expenses, with no chance of being able to join in on family occasions or holidays. Leaving the house is hard, even bus transport affects my budget, so leaving my house as little as possible is necessary. Any kind of community activity, festivals or events, getting there, buying anything whilst there, is beyond my income, and means any bus ticket or drink or food I buy there effects my income and ability to pay for rent, groceries and bills.
I feel as if relationships are impossible until I’m able to support myself.”
– Joel, Newstart recipient
“My son has ADHD, anxiety and autism, and requires three different medications to function at an acceptable standard to attend a mainstream school. He also attends a Catholic school, which is prepared to accommodate his learning needs because the public system in our area simply doesn’t have the support systems in place to meet his learning needs. Just school fees are $150 a fortnight.
So we have six regular prescriptions a month, at a cost of $40. By the time I pay for school fees, rent, electricity, phone and internet bills, I am left with $250 a fortnight to cover everything.
To stay well with both diabetes and my son’s ADHD/anxiety/autism we rely on a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, bread and dairy foods — basically we live on a diet of largely unprocessed, sugar free, artificial colouring and preservative free, gluten and lactose-free products, wherever possible. All the expensive foods.
$250 doesn’t really cover the fortnight’s groceries. It means we eat a lot of apples and potatoes, mince, sausages and rice. We’ve done the ‘100 ways with mince’ recipe book. It also means that I often end up unwell — either I eat cheaper processed foods and it affects my blood sugar levels, or I skip meals and my blood sugar is affected. And either way I end up spending more time in the doctor’s office and a burden on the health system. I can’t win.”
– Natalie, a single mother forced onto Newstart when the Gillard government significantly tightened the eligibility of the Single Parent Pension.
Please find attached the AUWU’s draft motion for consideration and please contact me if you have any questions or comments.