Newstart recipients forced to starve
FINANCE Minister Mathias Cormann insists building a "stronger economy" is the best way the Federal Government can help jobseekers struggling to make ends meet.
Pressure is mounting on the Coalition to increase the Newstart payment, as a new survey shows some recipients are skipping meals, going without heating during winter and cutting back on showers.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has released the findings as part of its push to increase the benefit - which is $282 per week for a single person without children - by at least $75 a week.
The Government has refused to consider a Newstart increase beyond twice annual adjustments in line with inflation despite repeated calls from ACOSS, business groups, unions and economists.
Labor, the Greens, crossbench politicians, Coalition backbenchers and even former Liberal prime minister John Howard have also called for a rise.
Senator Cormann says the Government must think of its bottom line.
"These conversations are ongoing, but in the end we've got to make judgments about what is affordable in the budget," he told ABC Radio National on Monday.
The minister has stressed the Government is trying to make it easier for people to find work.
"We understand that people on welfare and people on Newstart allowance in particular, when you're looking for a job, that is a tough circumstance," he said.
"Our focus has been on helping all Australians - in particular those who are unemployed - with getting into work."
The ACOSS survey findings only added fuel to those ambitions, he added.
"We will continue to work really hard to build a stronger economy, where more Australians have the best possible opportunity to get a job and get ahead," Senator Cormann said.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is among backbenchers calling for a Newstart rise, inspired by his own struggles to make ends meet while earning more than $200,000.
"God knows how someone on $280 a week ever gets by; I don't know how they do it. It would be near impossible," he told Seven's Sunrise program.
The ACOSS survey of 489 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance found more than four-out-of-five respondents skipped meals to save money, and about 44 per cent went without more than five meals a week.
Two-thirds could not afford to use heating during winter, while 68 per cent only had enough money to buy second-hand clothes.
More than half had less than $100 left per week after housing costs.
"People can't afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, dental care or internet access, which severely hampers their chances of getting a job," ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.
"Especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking."
Labor and the Greens joined forces last week to initiate a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart and other welfare payments, which is due to report back next year.