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Worst-off hardest hit

Thursday, 15th May, 2014

By Nick Gibbs

‘Not for profit’ organisations are predicting a big increase in the number of people needing help following a federal budget that means “long-term pain for the most marginalised.”  

The comment came from Salvation Army National Secretary, Major Kelvin Alley, and his concerns were shared by organisations including Anglicare and St Vincent de Paul.  

Measures listed as causing the most grief include slowing the indexation of the aged pension, a $7 co-payment to see a doctor, higher fuel prices and tighter eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Federal Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, said changes to the Newstart Allowance - including restricting under 25s to the lower paid Youth

Allowance; a six month wait for under 30s to get unemployment support; and a mandatory work for the dole - were about encouraging disengaged youth into work.

“The idea is based on the view (that) everyone who is capable of working should be working, preferably for wages but, if not, for the dole,” Ms Ley said.

“It is important people receiving taxpayer-funded benefits recognise their mutual obligation to contribute to the community in return.”  

Regarding cuts to the aged pension, Ms Ley said it was “a small but very important way we can help bring the budget back under control.”  

In defending a government that came to power on the promise of no new taxes, she said the expected increase in fuel costs would fund badly-needed road improvements in the electorate.

“There are not too many people in the Far West who don’t share my frustration with the state of some of our roads, particularly across our part of NSW,”  she said.

“Yes, we are introducing indexation of fuel to the CPI from August which is expected to cost the average motorist about 40 cents extra a week.”  

Pensioners Association President Tex Morton criticised the changes to the aged pension and said many who relied on it would be pushed below the poverty line.

“I’d like to see Mr Abbott or Mr Hockey live off it,” he said, adding that many pensioners would be forced to go without necessities such as heating and cooling.    

Mr Morton was also sceptical of the reasons for lifting the pension age to 70 and said the impact would worse in places like Broken Hill that relied on heavy industry.

“Most of them aren’t qualified to do anything else,” he said.

BH St Vincent de Paul Conference President Phil Sky said the budget hit those who could least afford it.

It’s not going to be good for the most vulnerable people,” he said.

“I guess you could say it’s a bit of a cruel budget.”  

Mr Sky said he would have liked to see a larger focus on job creation instead of restrictions enforced on Centrelink entitlements.

“It would have been more beneficial for the government to look at creating more jobs,” he said, pointing out that Broken Hill’s isolation meant there were limited options if work could not be found in the two or three major industries.

With the next major centre, Mildura, at least three hours’ drive away, he said having to move to find work was another expense most could not afford.

BH Salvation Army Major Kelvin Stace said he had not had an opportunity to examine the budget, but said the government had a responsibility to try and be financially viable.

He also said that encouraging people to move from away from relying on unemployment benefits was not necessarily a bad thing “as long as there are jobs available”.

But Major Stace agreed that in an place like Broken Hill, finding meaningful employment could be difficult and predicted an increase in the demand for support from the Salvos.

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