Leaders' letter to Government calls for Newstart increase

THE growing chorus of calls for a $50-a-week increase to the Newstart Allowance has been backed by more than 40 community and union leaders in an open letter to the Federal Government.

Among the signatories to the letter were Father Frank Brennan, Julian Burnside QC and World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello.

The letter renews calls on the Commonwealth to add an extra $50 a week to the current $35-a-day allowance, but the government has given no indication it is willing to take action on the calls.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin has repeatedly said the government's emphasis was on encouraging people to enter the workforce, rather than increasing government entitlements.

Australian Council of Social Services chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said there were widespread concern about the rate of Newstart payments, and whether it was a disincentive to entering the workforce.

"This only makes life even harder for people already struggling to lift themselves up and more fully participate in our society through paid work," she said.

"It is simply unacceptable that Newstart hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years."

Dr Goldie said while the current budgetary constraints were well understood, the increase "must be a priority in the coming budget", due for release in two weeks.

"At present 2.2 million people live below the poverty line in Australia, including 575,000 children," she said.

"Increasing Newstart by $50 a week will help lift over one million people out of this despairing situation, and provide a welcome stimulus to the economy, because every single cent will be spent on mere survival."