Opinion

Do the decent thing with Newstart

By John Lewis

The village that ignores its battlers will eventually collapse under the weight of barricades put up to keep the battlers at bay.

No, that is not from Deuteronomy or Karl Marx, that is my apocalyptic way of saying: for goodness sake, raise the Newstart allowance.

Really, what is the point in forcing people to live below the poverty line to make ends meet?

Newstart forces people to choose between new shoes or petrol, between food or a power bill, or between breakfast and supper.

These are the visible effects of living on a low income.

But there are also now invisible systems in place to collect data on and measure the behaviour and expenditure of individuals receiving welfare.

The poor are to be drug tested under the "compassionate conservatism" policy of the Federal Government.

Algorithms and robocops now keep track of the financial behaviour of welfare recipients. Lives are measured not by fellow human beings but by mathematicians and coders behind closed doors.

Are we really still living under the medieval belief that poverty is a sin that must be punished?

It seems as though we are.

After an annual increase of $3.30 a fortnight was announced quietly last month, the solo payment for Newstart is now $559 a fortnight.

That is $279.50 a week. Take out rent and utilities and that does not leave much for food and transport. Forget clothes or anything as extravagant as entertainment.

There are many people in this neoliberal world of Gradgrindery who think it fair, logical and darned well justified that money earned by hard-working taxpayers is not doled out willy-nilly.

Fair enough.

But the idea that keeping people in grinding poverty will force them to get off their backsides and look for work and so make the world a better place — just doesn't work.

It just makes them sick, depressed and ultimately angry.

It creates division, class barriers and resentment.

The Howard government effectively froze Newstart in 1997 when they linked it to inflation. Then it was about 2.5 per cent. Now it is 1.9 per cent. That looks to me like a downward slide to oblivion.

If we force people into poverty with no hope of relief we create a rising underclass of unhealthy, unemployable people. Then everyone has to pay for medical treatment and damage to the social fabric.

There is also an argument that says paying people more Newstart puts more money into the system to spend on the basics: food, clothes and limited entertainment.

FamilyCare chief David Tennant reckons $75 a week extra for Shepparton Newstart recipients could inject $10.4 million into the local economy.

That should be enough to satisfy the logicians among us.

But there is another reason to allow people without means to live above the poverty line.

It is just the decent thing to do.

That is not logical, it does not add up, and it is not measurable by any economic or Darwinian logic.

But it is right.