Budget leaves region's poorest in 'fight for survival'

Hundreds of financially-challenged south-west residents will be worse off due to the federal government’s fiscal belt-tightening.

Hundreds of financially-challenged south-west residents will be worse off due to the federal government’s fiscal belt-tightening.

POORER south-west residents will have to “fight for survival” with already meagre incomes placed under greater strain, social welfare groups claim.

The seven-dollar GP co-payment confirmed in the federal budget this week was singled out by Christian and secular service groups alike as unfair to struggling south-west households.

Other measures to repair the budget deficit including changes to seniors health card eligibility, disability pension criteria and new hospital charges also came under fire from community support advocates.

Western Region Alcohol and Drug (WRAD) director Geoff Soma said the south-west’s most disadvantaged residents would be hit hard by the budget cocktail of welfare cuts and new government fees.

He said while homelessness and poverty wasn’t as visible in the rural areas compared to Melbourne and Sydney, hundreds of south-west residents would be worse off due to the federal government’s fiscal belt-tightening.

“If you’re unlucky enough to live on $100 after rent and all the other expenses, then another seven dollars is a pretty big deal,” Mr Soma said.

“That’s seven per cent of your available income. It’s like taking $70 away from someone earning a $1000 a week.

“People already struggling with drug, alcohol or mental health issues have been financially assaulted by Tony Abbott, that’s the reality.”

The introduction of a GP co-payment of seven dollars will be incurred for the first 10 doctor consultations per year. After 10 visits, patients with concession cards and children under 16 will be exempt from the fee.

Brophy Family and Youth Services chief executive Francis Broekman said youth unemployment in the south-west had risen during the past two years and claimed budget cuts would exacerbate the situation. Mr Broekman was particularly concerned with the government’s proposal of raising the age of eligibility for welfare initiative Newstart from 22 to 25 years. 

Previously, once people turned 22 they would shift from the lower-paid Youth Allowance to Newstart, giving them an extra $96 per fortnight.

“The way young people have been represented in the federal budget is quite discriminatory,” Mr Broekman said.

“Youth unemployment has been steadily rising in the south-west and it’s not because young people don’t want to work, it’s because there isn’t enough opportunities out there to cover everyone.”

Anglicare state chief executive Paul McDonald labelled the federal budget “socially irresponsible”.

“Limiting basic income support for young unemployed adults to only six months of every year until they reach 30 will impose a domestic and financial crisis on those who can least afford it,” the Anglicare chief said. 

St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive John Falzon said the federal budget was “deeply offensive to the people for whom every day is already a battle”.

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