Thursday, 25 February 2021
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic the government has acted decisively to cushion the blow for households and businesses. We have provided $251 million in direct support to households and businesses.
The pandemic caused a once-in-a-lifetime disruption to the labour market, and we have used our comprehensive welfare system to provide emergency support to Australians impacted by other crises, including through the coronavirus supplement and expanded access to JobSeeker payments and related payments. Throughout this period, our values have not changed.
The government strongly believes the key to improving people's living standards and reducing welfare dependency is job creation and having the right incentives to ensure there is a workforce ready to take those jobs.
In addition to our JobMaker plan to support businesses and provide the employment opportunities Australians need, we are strengthening our income support system. This bill will provide a permanent increase to working age payments provided to over 1.95 million Australians.
This $50 increase is the largest increase to employment payments in more than 35 years. It will be provided to jobseekers, student payment recipients, parenting payment recipients and youth payment recipients.
This $9 billion increase to payments balances the need to ensure income support payments encourage and enable workforce participation with the need for the welfare system to be fiscally sustainable for future generations.
This rate increase will occur from 1 April 2021 and is in addition to the usual indexation of payments, which will take effect on 20 March 2021.
The $50 per fortnight increase will apply to the JobSeeker payment, youth allowance, the parenting payment, Austudy, special benefit, partner allowance and widow allowance.
The increase will flow on to Abstudy (living allowance), farm household allowance and payments made under the Department of Veterans' Affairs education system.
The bill also permanently increases the income free area to $150 per fortnight for the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other) from 1 April 2021, allowing people to keep more of what they earn as they reconnect with the labour market, and encourage recipients to take the first step into employment without impacting their payments.
The bill extends the waiver of the ordinary waiting period for the parenting payment, the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance for a further three months until 30 June 2021.
The bill also extends to 30 June 2021 expanded access to the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other) for persons who find themselves having to self-isolate or care for someone who is self-isolating due to the pandemic.
It also extends the portability period for certain age pensioners and recipients of the disability support pension (for people with significant disability) until 30 June 2021. This means pensioners unable to return to, or depart from, Australia within 26 weeks due to travel restrictions resulting from COVID-19 will have their entitlement maintained until 30 June 2021, as if they had been able to return home as planned.
The policy delivered by this bill carries a cost of approximately $9 billion to 2024-25, including approximately $700 million in 2020-21.
The bill will further strengthen our income support system in a fair and sustainable way. I commend the bill to the House.