The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped the Australian dream in its tracks. The economy has only recently started to come out of hibernation, and the freedoms we take for granted are starting to trickle back into our lives.
There’s talk of snapping back to our ‘old normal’. We can’t wait to carry on living life as we knew it. But was the world we left behind really that much better? What about rising sea levels and stagnant wages? Did we ever stop to think that maybe the future we were creating for young people in the old normal could be improved in the new normal post COVID-19?
Never waste a good crisis, they say. So, what could we do differently in a post-pandemic world?
Fix the broken welfare system
The economic damage caused by the virus can’t be underestimated. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the social distancing measures that has so far caused hundreds of thousands of businesses to close were costing the national economy $4 billion dollars a week. Unemployment rates are headed towards 10% because of the lockdown and some punters are predicting a 20% drop in work hours. It’s dire.
The conversation has shifted to how the economy can recover and return to the way things were. But the old normal wasn’t fair for everyone. Unemployed people who received Newstart payments, now called JobSeeker, were some of the poorest people in the OECD and were receiving the lowest welfare payment in the developed world. The payment was equivalent to $40 a day.
This included hundreds of thousands of young people out of secure work and on welfare payments.
This has been made worse by the virus and the lockdown, because young people are the group who’s been hit hardest in terms of unemployment and wage loss.
A stronger social safety net, with a high JobSeeker payment, would be particularly useful for many young people in the COVID-19 recovery.
The payment received a welcome $550 a week boost to support the growing number of people who became unemployed due to the virus. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not ruled out taking it away and returning the payment to pre-pandemic levels.
This comes as Liberal MPs push the prime minister to abandon the new payment sooner rather than later.
Greens member for the East Metro region of WA Tim Clifford says a stronger safety net is desperately needed, or we will see thousands of people stuck in poverty.
“The Newstart payment before COVID was below the poverty line,” he says.
“It doesn’t break the cycle of poverty; it condemns people to poverty.”
He says the high payments need to continue into the post-pandemic recovery to make sure people can stay employed (with JobKeeper) or have enough money to survive with JobSeeker.
“We’re potentially going to look at a catastrophic impact on people’s lives … if the government winds JobKeeper back, they’re throwing people to the wolves.”
The idea to cut JobSeeker is in line with the right-wing think tank, The Institute of Public Affairs who reckon “the government must focus on transitioning as many Australians out of taxpayer-funded wages and employment as soon as possible.”
They’re also keen on cutting red and green tape to speed up property developments, lowering taxes and reforming the nation’s industrial relations system.
The IPA have long been accused of promoting policies that would reduce the wage bills, taxes and regulations on some of its biggest donors, which include fossil fuel industry giants like Gina Rhinehart.
Maybe their voice is being heard, as Josh Frydenberg recently put lower company tax rates and changes to industrial relations back on the table as ways to help the economy recover after the virus.
If you want your voice heard, now is the time to speak to your local MP about their policies for young people and employment. If you have a job, join your union and have an active voice in Australian democracy.