One-off payment won’t fix poverty: St Vinnies

05 Jan 2009

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
THE St Vincent de Paul Society has warned that the Federal Government’s bonus payments to pensioners, seniors and carers will not stem the tide of poverty as it was intended to stimulate the economy.

The Federal Government announced on October 14 that low and middle income families would receive a Christmas bonus of $1000 per child, single pensioners will get a $1400 payment and pensioner couples will be given $2100 under an emergency $10.4 billion rescue package to protect the economy.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s WA spokeswoman Lucinda Ardagh said that the relief brought by the payments, which were supported by the Coalition Opposition and carried out just before Christmas 2008, would be short-lived.
 “It would be easy to think these payments would make a significant difference to the people and families who receive them,” Ms Ardagh said.
“It would be a mistake to think this money will go any way to stem the tide of poverty and disadvantage.”
Ms Ardagh said that at best the payments would provide a moment’s breathing space for families under enormous and on-going financial pressure, enabling them to catch up with rent or pay outstanding bills like schools fees and credit card debt.
Ms Ardagh said that the St Vincent de Paul Society’s services are inundated with West Australians seeking assistance, as each month it receives 2500 calls for assistance for food, clothing and assistance with utility bills plus friendship and support.
“It would be wonderful to think that we would see a drop in this need as a result of the bonus payments, but we won’t. The numbers of people coming to us for help continues to grow,” she said.
Catholic Social Services Australia director Frank Quinlan said the payment was indicative of successive Australian governments who have avoided making judgments about what an acceptable living standard for Australians on benefits might be.
“The current system is full of anomalies born of random payments and bonuses that arise out of political whim and historic accidents rather than good social policy,” Mr Quinlan said.
Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, told The Record that the Government “understands the impact the global financial crisis is having on those who are already under pressure”.
She said that around four million pensioners, carers, people with disability and veterans and around two million families are receiving lump sum payments, as part of the Rudd Government’s $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy. 
”This will go some way to easing the financial pressure on Australian households,” she said.
“We value the enormous contribution made by the community sector.
“In these difficult times strong partnerships between the not-for-profit sector and the government are essential.” She conceded that the challenges that the Federal Government faces are “complex, requiring co-ordinated, collaborative responses driven by a new partnership between government and the social service sector”.
CSSA also repeated its call for an independent Entitlements Commission to set and review pensions and other income support payments on an annual basis, considering a range of criteria including the goods and services necessary to live in reasonable comfort, maintain dignity and take part in the life of the community; the contribution of in-kind government support provided through measures such as the Seniors Card, Medicare, public housing and subsidised rent and transport.
Such an Entitlements Commission  would also take into account differences in the cost of living between income support recipients who own their own homes or have access to public housing and those who rely on the private rental market; differences in the cost of living for income support recipients in different geographical areas; and differences in the cost of living for income support recipients living in different family/household types.