Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers came face-to-face with a single mum struggling to cope with cost of living pressures in a solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night.
Jessica Blowers told the Treasurer she would struggle to pay her rent until the parental payment changes announced in the May 9 federal budget come into effect.
In last week’s budget, Labor lifted the age cut-off for the payment from eight to 14, after a decade of regret within the party over a decision to slash welfare assistance for single parents. From September, about 57,000 single parents will receive an extra $176.90 per fortnight.
Previously, nearly a quarter of a million parents – mostly women – received the payment and were forced onto the lower JobSeeker rate when their child turned eight.
Ms Blowers said her daughter will turn eight at the end of August and she does not know how she will cope when she loses the $176.90 a month.
“That’s a whole month I won’t be able to pay my rent, because the payment of JobSeeker won’t be enough to cover it, so I would like to know what measures the government has in place to bridge the gap that I and other parents in similar situations will find ourselves in,” she asked the Treasurer.
Dr Chalmers said September was the earliest the change could be made.
“We’ve tried to do is bring that change in as soon as possible. We think September is the soonest that we can do it,” he said.
“I understand that that means a few weeks for you going from the current payment onto JobSeeker and (then) back onto the single parenting payment.
“I would love to avoid that if we could, but what we’re trying to do is provide this extra assistance … that you need and deserve. If we could avoid those couple of weeks, we would, but September is the best we can do.”
Ms Blowers reiterated that she was not sure she could survive for that month.
“At the moment my entire pension is my rent. I live off Family Tax Benefit A and B a fortnight,” she said.
“My rent has gone up from $900 a fortnight to $960 a fortnight. What am I going to do? What is my choice, other than I am doing my best to get a job so that I can keep a house over my daughter’s head.
“When I’m applying for the jobs, I am faced with being told that more than 100 other candidates have applied for the same jobs – I’m not sure how I am supposed to compete against 100 other people for one job.”
Dr Chalmers was also pressed by a father-of-two who said he and his wife were working three jobs to make ends meet.
“It used to be possible to raise a family and purchase a home on one income. Mr Treasurer, that is no longer an option for a lot of us in Western Sydney. How many incomes do you think families will need in future generations?” Gary Azar asked him.
Dr Chalmers said wage stagnation was a big issue, but one that was slowly changing.
“After almost 12 months in office we have been able to shift the needle on wages growth. One of the things I’m proudest of in the economy is that we now have wages growing the quickest that they have in aggregate since 2012,” he said.
“They are forecast to grow next year at the fastest rate since 2009, (but) I know that that isn’t felt evenly across the workforce or across our economy.”
Mr Azar said one of the biggest hits to his family’s budget was the cost of childcare, then coming off a fixed mortgage rate.
Childcare costs will change from July 1.