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Missed opportunities in Budget

National

The 2020-21 Federal Budget has delivered a financial boost for some but does little to support the country’s most vulnerable and will increase inequality, according to some Catholic groups.

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Commenting on the Treasurer’s economic plan handed down on October 6, Catholic Social Services Australia CEO Ursula Stephens said the overall sentiment was one of “opportunities missed”.

“With hundreds of thousands of Australians struggling to find work or not able to access enough hours of work, they’ll be left to ponder how they will walk their individual path through the pandemic’s aftermath,” she said.

“Billions of dollars in tax cuts will help some people, but those cuts won’t help those who can’t find work and who appear destined to return to unsustainably low welfare payments.

“We’re particularly concerned about workers aged 55 and over – some of whom may never work again.”

Dr Stephens said Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti called for political, economic and social decisions to be assessed based on how they support vulnerable people.

“Using that yardstick, we can’t give the Government a passing grade based on the Budget the Treasurer delivered,” she said.

National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society, Claire Victory, said the Budget relied heavily on a number of “optimistic assumptions” and targeted people who were already comfortable, overlooking the plight of low-income Australians and others who do not pay tax.

“It is a precarious Budget reliant on stimulated business and consumer confidence – assuming that reforms will boost economic activity and jobs will follow as a result,” Ms Victory said.

“The plan is fraught, relying on assumptions including that the recession will be over by this time next year, international borders will be open in the second half of 2021, a population-wide vaccine will be available by end of the year, investors will invest and consumers will spend, increased confidence will lead to employment and spending and tax cuts will motivate people to spend, not save.

“We welcome some initiatives including the additional 23,000 aged care packages, the doubling of concessional psychology visits, the $2 billion concessional loans to help farmers cope with the drought and additional funding to address the reduction in funding of frontline social services impacted by the cessation of the Social and Community Services Special Account. One-off payments for people on pensions are also welcomed.

“The absence of funding for social housing defies logic. We continue to hold that a significant investment in social housing would have provided a shot in the arm for the construction industry, immediately boosting jobs including apprenticeships, and helped to address the chronic shortage of social housing for people on low incomes.”

Ms Victory added that the Government continued to ignore the plight of those on temporary visas who have limited access to financial, housing, and medical assistance, have lost their jobs and are unlikely to find suitable employment at this time.

“While we should be looking to support the most vulnerable people, this Budget prioritises the business sector and the well-off. This has been a missed opportunity,” she said.

Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, Sr Monica Cavanagh, said the Government plan did nothing to support those whose lives have been “shattered” by the pandemic and the related structures of exclusion.

“This is a Budget that, without doubt, will increase inequality. It is a budget that church and community groups regard as deeply divisive,” she said.

“It is those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder who will pay the price for the Budget deficit. The immediate economic victims will be people who already work in precarious employment and those who even now are suffering from the deprivations of COVID-29.”

Some of the Budget concerns outlined by Sr Cavanagh included the lack of funding to deal with the crises in aged care facilities; the JobMaker hiring credit excluding anyone over 35 who lost their job throughout COVID-19; older women being largely excluded from wage subsidies; no new funding for public housing; and plans to cut more than $41 million from homelessness services and social housing.

“This has indeed been a year of uncertainty and fear, when our economy’s fundamental cracks have become dramatically apparent, and when we have recognised across the country that this is indeed a moment of challenge, but also of possibility and decisive choice,” she said.

“It is deeply disheartening then to see the way that this Budget is designed to protect capital and an unashamedly capitalist economy, rather than to strengthen a society based on equality and commitment to ‘all in this together’.”

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