Welfare advocates are demanding a shake-up of Australia's social security system, which they say is toxic instead of supportive.
Unemployed Australians are preparing for a government bill to pass federal parliament this week, setting the JobSeeker benefit at about $44 a day for a single person with no children.
While it's an increase from the pre-pandemic rate of $40 a day, it's far less than what unemployed Australians received during the height of the health crisis.
Welfare advocates, including Australian Council of Social Service boss Cassandra Goldie, took to Parliament House on Tuesday to raise concerns about the system.
Dr Goldie stood with representatives from Labor, the Greens and advocacy group GetUp in front of 1400 empty chairs, representing the 1.4 million Australians living in poverty.
"The social security system has become toxic and it is making people sick," she said.
"It is a tool that is bullying and harassing people, and causing chronic anxiety and distress.
"We are determined to deliver the kind of social security system people are entitled to."
The coronavirus supplement was $550 a fortnight at the height of the pandemic and has since been reduced to $150.
The supplement will end altogether on March 31.
The Greens won't stand in the way of the bill passing but the party's welfare spokeswoman Rachel Siewert will introduce amendments to increase the payment to $80 a day.
"The government is continuing its attempt to demonise, to stigmatise those that are looking for work," she said.
"They know $44 a day is below the poverty line and they know that you can't live on it."
Labor Senator Louise Pratt said she could not survive on the payment, labelling the new amount disgusting.
"We need a government that's prepared to lift people out of poverty," she said.
Labor won't attempt to change the bill in order to ensure it passes and job seekers receive the increase.
They also won't support the Greens' amendments.
The opposition has not put a figure on how much more it thinks unemployed Australians should receive.
JobSeeker was raised at Tuesday's caucus meeting, with a backbencher saying the low rates were not sustainable.
Labor's social services spokeswoman Linda Burney told colleagues JobSeeker was not the only lever to address poverty, saying it should be targeted in every budget.
National Council of Single Mothers chief Terese Everton says some women return to their abusers because of the welfare system's lack of support.
"I'm the hard, truth-telling reality check that this system is racist, it's sexist and it's underpinned by misogynist policy."
Advocates have long raised concerns about the ParentsNext program's impact on single mothers, who have to complete compulsory activities or risk losing support.
Australian Associated Press
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