Brighton Council leads the way calling for an increase to Newstart Allowance

BRIGHTON Council has unanimously agreed to advocate for the Newstart Allowance to be significantly increased to help people who are struggling to make ends meet.

At its meeting this week, Council unanimously supported a motion 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.

Cr Murtagh said 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 Tennille Murtagh
Cr Tennille Murtagh

Brighton Council, which is the first Tasmanian council to advocate for an increase in the Newstart Allowance, agreed the allowance’s current low rates were contributing to an increase in poverty, poor health and homelessness for recipients within Brighton’s own municipality and beyond.

Council will publicly write to all State and Federal ministers calling for the Newstart rate to be increased. The motion is also being forwarded to this month’s Local Government Association of Tasmania’s general meeting to be debated among council representatives.

Acting Mayor Barbara Curran said that while setting the Newstart Allowance was the responsibility of the Federal Government, Council had a major responsibility to advocate on behalf of its community.

“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. We have a duty of care as a Council to seek to address these issues and raising the Newstart allowance is a good place to start,” Cr Curran said.

Cr Murtagh who was first elected to Council at the 2018 local government elections, 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.

“I was struck by the examples of how so many of our people are living on literally no money and how it was impacting everything they do. It has made me very emotional and determined to act,” 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.  I heard of another example of a carer on Newstart who is left with just $4 a fortnight. This is just totally unacceptable,” Cr Murtagh said.

“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 becoming ill 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.

“And to compound that, 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 often chosen above fresh fruit and vegetables.

“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 they are not adequate enough to cover the rising costs of living.

“We also shouldn’t forget that Newstart parents of children on flexible timetables are also affected. if the parents’ mutual obligations clash, children are often left at home without any supervision leading to some children not wanting to return to school resulting in school suspension.

“Some of these ‘part-time’ students hang out in public spaces which for some has led to them getting in trouble with the law and ending up on youth intervention programs with parents notified to Child Safety Services.

“Not all parents can afford adequate child care on Newstart and if they do not abide by the job seeker plan, their allowance is cut off and again, they are unable to pay their bills, buy their groceries and care for their children leaving them under great emotional, mental and financial stress. And because Newstart is available to people from 22-67-year-olds, how on earth is a 67-year-old person able to successfully complete the job-seeker process?”

Cr Murtagh congratulated her fellow councillors who supported the motion saying she was delighted it had moved to advocate on behalf of its constituents and it was the first Tasmanian council to do so.

“This is an important and necessary area for councils such as Brighton.  The health of our communities is paramount and I am delighted that our council is leading the way in this state by raising awareness to our Federal politicians that the Newstart Allowance must be increased,” Cr Murtagh said.