Labor won’t commit to an increase in jobseeker payment

Labor has not committed to an additional increase to the jobseeker payment and has dropped plans for a review into the rate, the shadow assistant minister for the treasury, Andrew Leigh, has confirmed.

Asked by the Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, to clarify Labor’s position on the jobseeker payment at an Acoss event on Tuesday, Leigh said: “We haven’t committed to an additional increase.”

“I’m aware that an increase took place,” he said, referring to the $50-a-fortnight base rate increase revealed by Guardian Australia last year.

“So it was a modest increase put in place. Certainly living on jobseeker is a challenge. And that’s one of the reasons we need to make sure we’re thinking about rent assistance and the adequacy of social housing.

“It’s that whole package … making sure we have appropriate supports around people who are most vulnerable.”

The former Labor leader Bill Shorten in 2019 promised a review into the rate of what was then the Newstart payment, hinting that it would be used to determine the rate of an increase to the dole.

Leigh confirmed on Tuesday that commitment had been dropped for the coming election.

“We don’t have a plan for an independent review at this stage,” he said. “Certainly the focus that we have has been around our social housing commitment … which would see 30,000 additional social and affordable homes put into the market there.”

The watering down of Labor’s policy on jobseeker for this year’s election was criticised by Goldie, who noted that there was “broad consensus across the community sector about the need to fix the adequacy of income support”.

Goldie said it was a “key cause of poverty that’s being experienced, including among, for example, single parents, older women, people with a disability”. She later praised the opposition’s commitment for a full employment summit.

The Morrison government temporarily doubled the jobseeker rate during the pandemic, before returning it to the base rate. In April last year it increased this base rate by $50 a fortnight. The rate for a single person is now $642.70 a fortnight, or about $46 a day, which is well below the relative or Henderson poverty lines.

Responding to the government’s increase at the time, Labor’s social services spokesperson, Linda Burney, said Labor would “finalise all of our policies before the next election” and would look to address poverty at “every budget”.

Acoss has called for an increase to jobseeker of $70 a day – a boost of more than $330 a fortnight – as well as a 50% increase to commonwealth rent assistance, which maxes out at $130 a fortnight for a single person.

The party’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, was questioned about Labor’s position on the jobseeker rate on Sunday. He did not give a clear indication that the rate would be increased under Labor, but told the ABC that the party “obviously want to see that in a better place”.

Asked for further comment, Burney told Guardian Australia that Labor would “make helping those in need a priority, and we will balance payment rates against other investments in housing, jobs, health and education”.

Leigh’s comments came after the Coalition attacked Labor over the cost of its election platform on Tuesday with what it claimed was an estimate of the cost of Labor’s policy “aspirations”.

Those costings were dismissed out of hand by Labor’s Treasury spokesperson, Jim Chalmers, as entirely inaccurate.

But the party has been more reticent to put forward large spending commitments at the upcoming election. The $50-a-fortnight base rate increase last year cost $9bn.

The Greens said last week the party wanted all welfare payments to be lifted to meet the most generous poverty line measure, the Henderson poverty line, which stands at $88 a day. It estimated this would cost $88bn over the forward estimates.

The Coalition declined to appear at Tuesday’s Acoss event.

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