POLITICIANS across the country have had visits this week from Australians struggling to get enough to eat, buy their kids school books, and pay for the bus fare to get to class.
The individuals sharing stories about life on the dole are hoping to convince MPs to join the growing rumble of calls to increase the payment.
An unusual alliance of groups has formed to amplify the long-running calls to boost Newstart, which has not had a significant increase in 25 years.
The Australian Council of Social Service, the Business Council of Australia, unions, the Country Women’s Association and the Council on the Ageing are among those who want change.
They’re backed by nearly three-quarters of the public, an April opinion poll found.
They have a strong argument.
The payment is $277.85 a week for singles, and lower for people with a partner.
That’s just under $40 a day.
The aged pension is one-and-a-half times higher and the minimum wage for someone working full time is two-and-a-half times higher.
Even the poverty line – defined as half the median wage – is one-and-a-half times higher at $433 a week.
And the biannual increase to Newstart is linked to the consumer price index, not the generally faster-growing average wages like pensions are.
ACOSS says Newstart should immediately be lifted by $75 a week and future increases linked to wages.
The political will to act is growing.
Labor went to the election promising a review, although then-leader Bill Shorten repeatedly hedged when asked if Newstart would increase.
This week senior Labor MP Chris Hayes conceded the party should have had a firmer stance and made an outright pledge to lift the payment.
Centre Alliance senators, now a powerful bloc on the crossbench, raised the issue during recent negotiations over tax cuts and will continue pushing for an increase.
Even within the government’s own ranks there are a few voices calling for movement – most recently former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce who used his outspoken backbencher position to suggest on Thursday the payment should be lifted and a separate rate added for people living in regional areas.
Influential senators Matt Canavan and Arthur Sinodinos have also said it should go up.
Despite all this, Scott Morrison’s government is holding out.
“We have no plans to increase social security payments for Newstart beyond what is the normal six-monthly indexation using the measures that are always in place,” the prime minister told the new parliament’s first question time.
The government’s counter-argument is that most people on the dole get other payments on top of it, they aren’t on it for very long, and the best form of welfare is a job and the coalition is doing its best to keep the economy chugging along to create more of those.
Those “other payments” amount to an extra $7.30 for more than half of recipients. Just over one in four also get an average $48 a week to help pay rent.
Three-quarters of people have been on Newstart for 12 months or more, the unemployment rate at the moment is stubbornly sitting on 5.2 per cent and Thursday’s jobs data showed just 500 more people were in work in June, in seasonally adjusted terms, while monthly hours worked dropped.
The coalition has form in withstanding pressure to make a change that has broad support.
Remember energy policy?
With every new iteration, ever more voices were added to the calls for the government to give investors the certainty they craved to start spending money on power stations again and cut power bills.
The party that claims to have business in its DNA withstood cajoling from industry, miners, power companies, shareholders and small and big business – not just green groups.
Of course, the internal politics in the energy debate were extremely nasty and the issue became a proxy for the internecine leadership war.
Campaigners might be left to hope that the issue of helping out the poorest in the community will nag at the moral consciences of our leaders.
Showing them there are real people struggling every day to keep themselves and their families afloat while they search for work in a sluggish economy can only help.