It’s not surprising that this first budget set down by the Abbott government is a tough one, given the pre-emptive commentary by Treasurer Joe Hockey. However, I don’t know that many people could have predicted just how tough it was going to be. It’s usual for new governments to use their first budget to implement policy change and attempt to balance the books, and then to ease off as an election year nears. I’m not sure that the ideology behind some of the budget changes doesn’t arise from a much more sinister reasoning, as the long-term impact of some of the changes will be devastating for families, young people and the elderly.
CatholicCare Social Services provides accommodation support to young people who are homeless and also provides case work support to young people at risk of homelessness. We assist over 300 young people each year across the diocese. Most of these young people are homeless for a range of reasons, the three main reasons being: they are victims of abuse; their families live in poverty and/or they have poor mental health and social skills which prevents them from participating in education and society generally. These young people are usually in a state of crisis when they enter our service. It takes time to organise and implement a range of supports before they are ready to look at their future and make plans.
At the moment, young people over the age of 17 are able to access income support while they get their lives on track. They are able to make a contribution to their board and lodgings and have the space to work with our staff to explore their skills and abilities and enter education, training or employment. Under the new arrangements, young people will need to wait six months before they will be eligible for income support. With the high youth unemployment rate we have been experiencing for many years across the region, it is unlikely that they will be considered by employers for jobs when they are competing with young people who live at home and are supported by a loving family. These young people will not be able to contribute to their board and lodgings, or pay rent if they are ready for independent living, thus increasing the chances that they will remain homeless.
It’s not just homeless young people who will be affected. Children will now only be provided with government support until they are six years old, yet parents will have to support their children who can’t find work until they are 30 years old. Our seniors will have to work until they are 70 years of age. This might be tenable if you have a desk job, but imagine digging ditches or collecting garbage or bricklaying until you are 70 years old. In addition, you won’t be able to receive medical treatment because the health funding to states will be slashed and the waiting times might as well be forever.
This budget has hit the most vulnerable in our society, those who can least afford to pay. It is estimated that the bottom 20% of income-earners will lose an average of 5% of their income, whilst those top income-earners emerge barely scathed with an average of just 0.3%. This approach assumes an equal playing field. It assumes that everyone has the same opportunities across the board and that those without work, don’t want work or are too lazy to get a job. It assumes that single full-time parents aren’t in paid work because they are lazy. There appears to be no value in full-time parenting, at least not for the “have-nots”.
With cuts to welfare, new taxes, cuts to state funding for education and health, increased health costs, cuts to benefits for seniors and so on, new social issues will emerge. We are likely to see increased homelessness and crime, lower standards of education, increased queues for health and emergency services and a dangerous veering toward an American model. Look at the homeless people on the streets of America (from where I have just returned) and pray that we don’t treat Australians who are ‘down on their luck’ in the same manner.