BRIGHTON Council has called on the Federal Government to increase the Newstart Allowance in an urgent measure to alleviate poverty and its associated disadvantages.
Acting Mayor Barbara Curran said while Councillors conceded that setting the Newstart Allowance was a Commonwealth responsibility Brighton Council had an overriding responsibility to advocate on behalf of its community.
“At its most recent meeting, Council unanimously supported a motion put forward by Cr Tennille Murtagh that the Newstart Allowance is insufficient to cover the rising costs of living and is adversely impacting on residents who live in Brighton and similar municipalities.
“Brighton is a community with a particularly high rate of disadvantage, disability and unemployment and as such, the rate of Newstart Allowance is especially relevant to our community. The links between financial poverty and many other issues affecting our community such as physical and mental health, crime, domestic violence, and indeed unemployment, are well documented.
“Undoubtedly, the current low level of Newstart payments is contributing to an increase in poverty, poor health and homelessness for recipients within the Brighton Municipality and beyond. We have a duty of care as a Council to seek to address this issue and raising the Newstart allowance is a good place to start,” Cr Curran said.
Brighton Council is the first Tasmanian Council to advocate for an increase in the Newstart Allowance. Council will now write to all State and Federal Ministers calling for the Newstart rate to be increased. The motion will also be forwarded to next month’s Local Government Association of Tasmania’s general meeting to be debated by all Tasmanian council representatives.
Cr Murtagh told Brighton councillors it was a travesty people who relied on the allowance were being forced to live below the poverty line with virtually no money to see them through an entire fortnight once rent and other essentials were taken out.
Cr Murtagh said the low rate of Newstart was impacting on the way some members of the Brighton community lived, how they could afford to provide for their families as well as their own mental health and well-being.
“Many of our people are living on literally no money and it impacts on everything they do. I am determined to act and our full Council supports this,” Cr Murtagh said.
The minimum rate of Newstart Allowance for a single person is $559 a fortnight or $279.50 a week which is just $39.92 a day. For a single person with dependent children it is just $604.70 a fortnight which is just over $43 a day.
“Many residents are having to make choices in winter months between heating and eating. If they choose to heat instead of eat, they risk a poor diet and sickness by not receiving enough nutrition to maintain a healthy immune system and fight off illnesses. If they choose to eat instead of heat in the winter months, they risk becoming ill with respiratory infections such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia or worse.
“To compound this, many of our residents have reported waiting up to three weeks to see a doctor and if medication is required, the pharmaceutical allowance of $6.20 a fortnight is not enough to cover the cost of a single person’s multiple prescriptions or a couple’s individual prescriptions let alone a family’s medication needs.”
Cr Murtagh said grocery shopping nutrition often did not enter the equation of a Newstart recipient, but cost did, so less healthy, processed options were chosen above fresh fruit and vegetables. It also impacts on social issues such as childcare, transport and education, as well as impacting on the ability to actually seek employment.
“Brighton municipality has been in the headlines recently because of the health of its residents, however it’s almost impossible to buy healthy food and live a healthy lifestyle if all of your money is going on rent.
“Many Newstart recipients are employed, however they rely on income support payments to supplement their wages because their earnings are not adequate enough to cover the rising costs of living.
“I am delighted that our Council has moved to advocate on behalf of its constituents and it is the first Tasmanian Council to do so.
“This is an important and necessary initiative for Brighton. The community’s health and well-being is paramount and we are leading the way in this State by raising awareness of the issue and calling for the Newstart Allowance to be increased,” Cr Murtagh said.