WHAT the federal Budget must do and what it will do are two different things. It is likely that the Budget will have one or more one-off payments for Age Pensioners in it. There have been two COVID-19 one-off payments of $750 per pensioner in April and July so far.
People over 55 who can’t find a job will be helped with a fortnightly COVID-19 supplement reduced from $550 to $250 until 31 December this year. The $550 supplement (briefly) lifted the unemployment benefit, now called JobSeeker, higher than the pension. For six months, the single JobSeeker rate was $1,115.17 per fortnight while the pension was $933.40 per fortnight. JobSeeker overall was reduced by $300 to $815.17 per fortnight on 25 September.
As it stands, the Australian Government will remove the COVID-19 supplement at year end. JobSeeker without the COVID-19 supplement is $565.70 per fortnight, almost 40 per cent less than the pension. Single pensioners know how hard it is to survive on $933.40 a fortnight.
What the Budget should therefore certainly do is to increase the rate of JobSeeker permanently for everyone who is unemployed, including people over 55 who are effectively retired but haven’t reached pension age yet.
The number of unemployed people over 55 has shot up, as unemployment in every age cohort has shot up. Before COVID-19, there were 196,000 people over 55 on unemployment benefits. The chance of them finding employment was low then, but now there are 318,000 people over 55 on unemployment benefits, an increase of more than 60 per cent. Finding a job has become even harder.
Apart from raising the JobSeeker rate permanently, what the forthcoming Budget should therefore also do is put in place a scheme aimed at getting people over 55 back into paid work.
People over 55 have plenty to offer and will mostly live another 25 to 30 years. They should not be relegated to permanent unemployment and mutual obligation ‘volunteer’ work. They need jobs!
The signs are that unemployment is retreating. By the end of August the unemployment rate had gone down 0.7 per cent compared with the previous month. That’s encouraging, but the underemployment rate barely budged, which means that those who found work did not find enough.
The federal Treasurer has said that emergency financial assistance through COVID-19 supplements will remain until the jobless rate is under 6 per cent. Unfortunately, he said nothing about the underemployment rate.
Apart from income support and wage subsidies, CPSA will be looking for action to begin fixing the aged care system. This has been shown up as deficient and failing many of the people who rely on it.
More home care packages and more money for more and better qualified nursing home staffing is what is required. No need to wait until February next year, when the Aged Care Royal Commission delivers its final report: enough has come out to warrant immediate action.