Seven News told hundreds of thousands of viewers last Friday that "thousands of unemployed families are being paid benefits well above the minimum wage", but the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) says that it is misleading to present the figures in this way.
"This comparison is misleading because it ignores the fact that families on a single fulltime minimum wage also receive the same supplementary payments as an unemployed family, which means they actually have 10 to 25 per cent more income, not less," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
The "departmental advice" used in the Seven News report comes from the federal government's 153 page joint agency submission to the Senate Committee into the Newstart Allowance.
The graph that appears in the government submission (p. 98), and that was aired on Seven News, shows the total package of assistance paid to households with no earnings. The minimum wage is also marked on the graph. However, there is no information on the graph regarding the supplementary payments available to families living on a single full-time minimum wage.
The Greens slammed the government, and its submission to the Senate inquiry, for what they describe as a distraction from the challenges faced by unemployed Australians. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert criticised the Government for not making "like-to-like comparisons".
"The figures submitted to the Senate Inquiry ignore the fact that a person on the minimum wage with children is also entitled to a similar level of family assistance payments which supplements their income," said Siewert.
ACOSS agrees, saying that comparing unemployed and minimum-wage earning families without considering the supplementary payments available to both types of family is a misleading comparison.
"This ... has led to some media reports that people on Newstart with children are receiving $300 above the minimum wage. This is simply misleading and belittles the enormous struggle of people trying to live on Newstart payments, especially if they are also raising children," said Goldie.
Seven News did not show its viewers two similar graphs that also appear in the government submission presenting the total package of assistance available to families with some fortnightly earnings.
The Greens and welfare groups including ACOSS have long campaigned to increase the assistance available to unemployed Australians and welcomed the Senate inquiry that commenced in June this year.
In its submission to the Senate inquiry ACOSS says that payments should be benchmarked against an adequate minimum standard of living and recommends raising the allowance paid to unemployed single people and students living independently by $50 a week.
The Greens agree it is time to reassess assistance offered to unemployed people, "We have heard clear and consistent reports that Newstart is too low and that living $130 per week below the poverty line makes it increasingly harder to find work, especially for people already facing barriers to employment," said Siewert.
Earlier this year Siewert lived off the Newstart Allowance rate for one week in an attempt to raise awareness about the difficulties facing unemployed Australians. Siewert said at the time that the current rate of Newstart traps people in poverty and makes finding work more difficult.
The ongoing Senate inquiry received 70 submissions and is due to report on 29 November.
At the time of publication Seven News had not responded to a request for comment.
The graphs contained within the government's joint departmental submission to the Senate Inquiry into the allowance payment system are based on data from the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). New Matilda contacted DEEWR but the department declined to comment.
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