It seems like the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel is getting brighter, and it’s hard not to get excited. But with each hope of easing restrictions comes questions surrounding the longevity of support payments promised to workers. It’s just as easy, it seems, to feel a little anxious.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week confirmed the government will review the $1,500 fortnightly JobKeeper payment in June.
By his estimate, based on the gradual easing of restrictions happening across the states and territories, we’ll be back to (a socially-distant) normal by July.
As more people are allowed to gather in homes, eat in cafe’s and restraurants, go to the gym, and even do some ‘non-essential’ retail therapy, there is hope that workers on JobKeeper will bounce right back into their pre-pandemic roles.
Though legislated for six months, the government expects JobSeeker payments – doubling the Newstart allowance to $1,100 – and JobKeeper payments – fortnightly $1,500 wage subsidy – will cease at the end of September. Just five months after they were created.
They were legislated for six, and I reckon we need that extra month at least to avoid disaster.
Not Everyone Is Going Back To Work Right Now.
Clearly, ScoMo is hoping for some kind of lightning-fast snapback of the economy. Which is fair enough, plenty of us are dying to be out of our homes, off the video meetings, and earning some money for ourselves.
But, an “ease” in the lockdown isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. It’s a slow and steady process. Really, three whole steps to work through. And even then, some businesses won’t be able to open until well past step three (if at all).
Step one only allows gatherings of ten people. Great for socialising, not great for a fully-staffed restaurants and cafes – which employ many people on JobSeeker and JobKeeper. I’d imagine that ten people, minus staff = maybe two customers?
Step two allows gatherings of 20 people. Better for hospitality, and casual workers at cinemas, gyms, and museums and galleries (I see you art historians), but it doesn’t demand all-hands-on-deck.
Step three allows gatherings of 100, which gives businesses plenty of room to being back a full staff – if the past few months haven’t hit them too hard.
Even at step three, it’s likely to take a while we’re all dying to go out, it’s unlikely we’re all actually going to race out of our doors at our first chance. Many businesses won’t be bringing back full staff rosters for many more months; and many might not bounce back at all.
Which means more people will need these payments for longer.
We Don’t Want To Be On It, But We Will Be. So Help Us.
Scott Morrison said that JobKeeper was only ever meant to be “a temporary lifeline” to help get us through the worst of the crisis.
“People don’t want to be on JobKEeper and JobSeeker,” he said. “They wan to be in a job that’s paying them.”
And while that is undeniably true, no one wants to (or can) live of $40 a day – as the original Newstart allowance budgeted – it looks like we’re going to need the welfare for a little longer. But the original $550 a fortnight Newstart payment isn’t enough.
Recipients have been screaming for more support for ages. A Senate inquiry found that Newstart failed to meet “a minimum standard of living for working-age job seekers” and recommended the payments be increased. When the JobSeeker payment was boosted, there were louder calls to let it stay that way.
Why? Because people could finally live without having to choose between eating a meal and paying rent. It’s a stress no-one needs, especially in a pandemic. And it’s a stress that disappeared because the system finally supported them.
Cutting this payment too soon will only end in disaster. Unemployment will worsen, mental health problems will become the norm, homelessness will increase. And these payments were all in place to try and avoid that.
Jobs won’t snap back like an elastic band. And the government is naive to think they will.
As restrictions are eased, so too will we ease back into work. So until we’re back to ‘normal’ – whatever that means – we need the support.