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Protecting the most vulnerable

By Tristan Ewins - posted Thursday, 26 March 2009


As we lurch deeper into economic crisis, the unemployed face a potential backlash as they are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of poverty. Pensioners, aged and disabled are also unfairly disadvantaged and there is an urgent need for reform “across the board”. In the run-up to the next federal budget, the poor and the vulnerable - and those with the decency to stand alongside them - need to mobilise for change.

This paper considers the plight of the most economically vulnerable of our community; and demands change now in the name of kindness and justice.

Aged pensioners are already - and justifiably - mobilising for a “living income”. The Council On The Ageing (COTA) in New South Wales, has called for single aged pension payments of 35 per cent of Male Average Total Weekly Earnings (MATWE).

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Theoretically, this is to be linked to a new “Cost of Living in Retirement” benchmark which would translate to $750.60 a fortnight for singles, and $1125.90 a fortnight for couples. For singles, this would amount to $19,515 a year for those living purely on the pension.

Alternatively, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Assocation (CPSA), has made the case for a more tightly targeted regime of assistance “to be paid to around 1.5 million pensioners with little or no additional income”.

Charmaine Crowe, speaking on behalf of the organisation, has indicated that these figures refer to “age, disability support pensioners and carers”. Ms Crowe, elaborating further, argued for an extra $80 per week for those single pensioners now on $280 a week. Such a move, providing a modest income to some of the most vulnerable pensioners, according to the CPSA, would cost $3.2 billion.

These proposals must be taken seriously, and should feature prominently in public debate, so that the vulnerable may be delivered from grinding poverty.

The CPSA has defined “low income” as $19,399 a year for singles: enough for a “modest” standard of living. Furthermore, the CPSA has noted that pensioners cannot earn over about $18,200 under the current means test regime; well short of the “modest living” standard of $19,399.

To view this in the appropriate context: such figures stand in contrast to “expenditure on [concessionary] taxation of superannuation” which for the last financial year was “almost $24 billion”. Expenditure on the Age Pension in the same financial year was $22.6 billion. Many superannuation concessions, here, apply to the wealthy.

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In light of the hardship suffered by so many, the call for justice, and for governments with better priorities, must go out now.

Compassion and justice for the unemployed

The plight of so many pensioners, aged and carers, must be addressed as a matter of great urgency. And yet the plight of the unemployed is also of critical importance: their financial straits being all the more dire. According to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Newstart (Australia’s unemployment pension) is $50 less than the Aged Pension every week.

There is a deeply-ingrained sentiment among some sections of the Australian community that the unemployed are “undeserving poor”. Populist rhetoric about “dole-bludging” abounds. Importantly, though, some commentators predict unemployment will rise by an additional 300,000 by mid-2010. As this human tragedy unfolds - now more than ever - we need to counter popular disdain for the unemployed. How can appalling myths and contempt for these people stand in the face of such widespread human misery?

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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