Rising interest rates are a new hit on top of an already painful situation. The basics – water, power, home loans, and groceries – are all on the up, squeezing household budgets to the brink. And for those on Centrelink, all your choices are hard choices. The Government needs to be clever about saving where it can, while also easing the cost-of-living. It needs cheap ways to help people pay their bills. Here’s a tip for immediate action: stop taxing JobSeeker payment. These Centrelink payments tick up a bit every so often due to indexing, but they’re still taxed as income. Previously, this wasn’t an issue because a year on JobSeeker didn’t push you over the tax-free threshold. But the tax-free limit isn’t indexed like payments are. So for over a decade, these tiny increases have nudged the base rate of JobSeeker up and up.
What’s the result? A single renter on JobSeeker will lose the equivalent of two weeks of payments to income tax this financial year. They’ll have to navigate the maze of a tax return, and the Government will have to chase them up if they don’t. There’s costs there for both parties, in time, energy and cash. You won’t find many people excited about paying an accountant out of their JobSeeker money. This isn’t going to raise a lot of money from any one person, but for any one person being hit by it, it’s devastating. Ask those making far less than 99% of the nation how they feel about losing nearly a thousand dollars to a nonsensical policy.
And that’s what this is: a policy misstep that hits the poorest, making them even poorer, over a sum that the Government wouldn’t bother bending over to pick up from the floor. The Government can take a bit of heat out of the cost-of-living crisis for hundreds of thousands of the poorest Australians with a simple fix – if pensions aren’t taxed, why is JobSeeker?