The reality of this pandemic is that there are much fewer jobs—the ABS estimates that there are almost 360,000 fewer jobs than there were 12 months ago—and the unemployment rate has started rising again. Official estimates put the jobless rate at 6.9 per cent, with 937,400 people out of work. But the pandemic and various government support measures mean that that number drastically understates the unemployment crisis, with more than 1.5 million people on JobSeeker benefits. Reinstating lengthy waiting periods before Australians can access payments such as JobSeeker during this time is not only mean spirited; it is needlessly damaging to people and to the economy. The government should be doing all it can to support those it always leaves behind—people who rely on social security payments, the unemployed, Australians with disability and carers.
Unlike the government, Labor acknowledges that aged pensioners, disability pensioners and carers have endured increased costs in relation to protecting their health during this pandemic. Unlike the government, Labor acknowledges that Australians on unemployment support require certainty about the level of support they are receiving during this uncertain and difficult time. Labor believes we should be expanding support to aged pensioners, disability pensioners, carers and Australians on unemployment support. Australians should not be expected to draw down on their savings and superannuation before they can access help.
The government expects another 400,000 Australians to lose their jobs by the end of the year—so up to 400,000 Australians could be forced to wait up to over three months before they can access JobSeeker. Under the liquid assets waiting period, singles with as little as $5,500 in liquid assets must wait to access income support. Those with $11,500 or more will be forced to wait 13 weeks. Liquid assets can include savings, a redundancy that is owed but not yet paid, loans to family members or superannuation that has been accessed early. Over the past six months extraordinary uncertainty has seen a record number of Australians withdraw their superannuation early. Australians who access their superannuation early will be forced to run it down before they can access income support. This comes at the same time as cuts to JobKeeper payments, which will likely see many people pushed onto unemployment payments for the first time.
To add insult to injury, the government still has plans to double the liquid assets waiting period to up to 26 weeks, or six months. The government wants to force struggling Australians to eat through their savings before they can access income support. Now is not the time to resume the liquid assets waiting period. We ask the government to extend the suspension of the waiting period, and we call on the government to withdraw its bill to double the liquid assets waiting period from the parliament.
The Prime Minister said, 'We are all in this together.' Yet our pensioners and carers have been left behind. He said, 'We are all in this together,' but the 1.8 million Australians who are expected to be on unemployment support by the end of the year have no certainty as to what level of support will be available to them. This is one million more people than were relying on unemployment payments at the end of 2019.
The simple fact is that this recession has more than doubled the number of people who are unemployed and need access to social security. For many families, this is the first time they have needed to rely on unemployment support. This is going to be a really anxious Christmas for Australians who have lost their jobs or who have had their hours slashed. They have no certainty about what level of support will be available to them beyond December. As far as we know, the government is scheduled to cut unemployment support to the old base rate of $40 per day.
These Australians who have lost their jobs cannot plan their finances or household budgets, because they simply don't know what level of support they will be provided. They're expected to run down what savings they have, dip into their superannuation to make ends meet, and, not at all surprisingly, many are worried about how they will afford essentials, cover rent and pay bills. Those thousands of Australians who've taken redundancies at this time, many of them older workers, are having to wait months before support kicks in. Some have had to sell cars and other possessions or pare back necessities to make it through each week. The Council on the Ageing have called on the government to reverse its decision to reintroduce the liquid assets waiting period. They know that unemployed mature workers are among the most vulnerable in what will be a long-term recession.
As businesses restructure, experience from past periods of economic downturn tells us that older workers are amongst the highest proportion of people forced into redundancy. Once unemployed, older jobseekers face poor employment prospects, due largely to age-discriminatory hiring practices. Mature-age unemployed people must not be forced to deplete their retirement savings in order to become eligible for JobSeeker, especially when the overall JobSeeker asset test should be sufficient to determine need. But their arguments have fallen on deaf ears on the government side. With more jobseekers than there are job vacancies, there are simply not enough jobs for everyone who needs one. It's even more difficult to find a job in our regions, the result of the government's failure to deliver a jobs program for our regions. In fact Anglicare's recent jobs snapshot found there are more than 100 people unemployed for every entry-level job. Yet for some reason our Prime Minister and this government seem intent on blaming Australians for losing their jobs.
We know that Australians receiving social security spend on local and small businesses. It means local and small businesses have more to spend on wages and jobs. Unemployment support is economic support. Labor's proposal would disallow the reintroduction of the liquid assets waiting period, as it impacts people with modest savings, including those who have withdrawn their super or are waiting on modest redundancy payments. With the economy in recession, people who have lost their job should be able to maintain a buffer to cover unexpected expenses. They should have a buffer if they get sick, if the car breaks down, if the fridge blows up and so on. This is a false economy, because it will mean more people are forced to rely on emergency relief.
This is the biggest recession in almost a century. It is not the time for this government to be punishing people who have lost their job.