Newstart too low to budget, senators told

Rebecca Gredley

People on Newstart are on such little money they see no point in having a budget, senators have been told.

A Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart - about $278 per week - has heard from various women's advocacy groups in Melbourne on Wednesday.

"Our financial counsellors are severely stretched," Stella Avramopoulos told the committee.

"Many tell us there's actually no point in helping a client on Newstart to do a budget because there's not enough money whichever way they cut it."

Ms Avramopoulos, the chief executive of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, said there were two main types of women in financial distress - single parents and older women.

"The woefully inadequate level of Newstart is failing these women more than any others in the community," she said.

"Sadly, often a job is not the best form of welfare and Newstart is no longer a transitional payment for many people."

There has been an increase in women using "predatory" payday loans from 177,000 in 2016 to 287,000 this year.

Of those, more than 40 per cent are single parents, Ms Avramopoulos said.

Good Shepherd deals with people who are struggling to make ends meet, with some eating two-minute noodles and a piece of toast each day.

Terese Edwards from the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance said women experiencing domestic violence needed more support from the government to help them leave relationships.

Head of women's research at Good Shepherd, Sarah Squire, pointed senators to a recent report showing 17 per cent of Australian children are living in poverty.

Most of these children live with one parent.

Liberal senator Hollie Hughes queried evidence about there being a lack of work, saying she he had on another committee there was a shortage of low skilled carers for people with disability.

After hearing of financial barriers that exist for low skilled work - such as obtaining a first aid certificate - Senator Hughes suggested the government could help improve access to such courses.

Senators were also told Newstart recipients are rationing medicine and can't afford to go to the doctor.

Uniting Vic.Tas chief Bronwyn Pike said Newstart should be increased by at least $75 per week to reduce poverty and inequality.

The Morrison government has resisted growing calls to increase the $40-a-day welfare payment.

Tasmania's Liberal premier Will Hodgman and NSW's deputy premier John Barilaro from the National Party are the latest conservative politicians to call on the federal government to increase the payment.