The Australian Greens have introduced a bill in the Senate to boost Newstart and Youth Allowance payments by $55 a week, in response to the "woefully low" welfare supplement.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert introduced the 'Social Security Amendment (Caring For People On Newstart' bill on Wednesday afternoon, to increase the single rates for the two payments by $100 a fortnight. Currently, the base rate for Newstart is $535.60 per fortnight, or $267.80 a week, while the Youth Allowance rate for an over-18 living out of home is $437.50 per fortnight, or $219 a week.
There has been criticism of welfare payments for failing to rise at the same rate as inflation, and Siewert said the current rates were not enough to live on.
"It is well known that income support payments have failed to increase overtime to reflect modern day cost-of-living. Now anyone accessing Newstart is receiving a grossly low payment that keeps them struggling below the poverty line," she said.
"A single person on Newstart receives just $38 a day -- it's simply not enough to get by. The social services sector as well as the tax firm KPMG have called for the payment to be increased so that those seeking work don't fall below the poverty line."
In the bill's explanatory memorandum, it is claimed Newstart "hasn't had a real, legislated increase in over two decades" and currently sat far below the national minimum wage.
"A single person on Newstart receiving the maximum payment has to live on $38.39 (including the energy supplement) a day. This is less than half the minimum wage," the bill outlined.
"The fact is, there are not enough jobs. According to the ABS in February 2017, there were 186,400 job vacancies in Australia while there were 743,700 people who were unemployed. Young people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed."
"Humiliating, demonising and attacking people makes life harder and helps to trap people in poverty, making it more difficult for people to re-enter the workforce."
Siewert said increasing the payments would be not only a boost to the finances and living situation of many thousands of Australians, but also a real stimulus for the national economy. People on lower incomes are more likely to spend any increase they receive, rather than saving it, ensuring the money goes back into the economy.
"It is not hard to imagine what people trying to live on these payments could do with the additional money. They will spend it and drive the economy at the same time. This change will bring relief to those on the very lowest rates of income support and assist them out of poverty," Siewert said.
"I hope that those that care about inequality will understand the role that adequate income support payments have in helping to address inequality. I hope they will get behind this bill which will offer relief to some of the nation's poorest."