Number of older Australians on Newstart growing by 10,000 per year.
In the space of five years, Liz Clifford has lost her husband to cancer, her office job and now her home.
At the age of 60 she finds herself struggling to get by on Newstart unemployment benefits.
“Very disappointed with life,” she told 7.30.
“It wasn’t his fault that he got sick and died, but after losing my job I don’t have the income now to support living here — rates to pay and bills to pay.
“I don’t like to say it’s destroyed my life, but it’s certainly torn it apart.”
Ms Clifford is part of a worrying trend. The number of people aged 55-64 on Newstart has risen by more than 55,000 in less than five years.
“It’s been very difficult. It makes you feel quite worthless actually, like you’ve got no purpose in life,” she said.
“I feel a little bit insulted and I feel like I’ve been punished for being unemployed.”
She lives on about $50 a day and has been forced to sell her and her late husband’s dream home because she can no longer keep up with repayments.
‘I’ve got a lot to offer’
Newstart has not increased in real terms for more than two decades, and the Federal Government is resisting calls to lift the payment.
“Electricity’s not cheap, water rates and house rates aren’t cheap,” Ms Clifford said.
“I get my Centrelink payment every fortnight and that just goes straight onto my credit card.
“Because I’ve used the redraw facility on [the mortgage], it’s gone up but I’ve tried to be very careful with that.”
Ms Clifford currently works part-time at a Gold Coast boarding kennel but is planning a move to Ipswich to find a cheaper home and full-time office work.
“I think people probably want someone who’s 35, 40 or something like that or maybe even younger.
“I know I’ve got a lot to offer, I’ve got a lot of skills and I’ve worked for a long time and I’m quite computer literate, but I think people just think, ‘She’ll be wanting to retire in a couple of years’ time, so it’s not worth taking her on’.”
More programs needed for mature age workers
Labour market analyst Professor John Spoehr said the sharp rise in the number of over-55s on Newstart was due to a downturn in traditional industries and a crackdown on eligibility for disability support payments.
“Despite the Australian unemployment rate being relatively low, that masks some other problems in the labour market,” he told 7.30.
“In particular, the difficult circumstances that mature-age workers face, particularly because of the decline in mining and manufacturing.
“People who were skilled in those sectors had to find jobs in very, very different areas of the labour market, predominantly in the services sector where they weren’t well skilled.”
Professor Spoehr said a poor education was hurting some workers in the modern employment landscape.
“Typically, mature-age workers, baby boomers in particular, often require more support than a lot of other workers in the labour market that are struggling,” he said.
“I think there’s a need for an expansion of mature-age employment programs in Australia to support mature age workers through these difficult transitions.”
Living on $40 a day
Phillip Cacciola, 61, has a lifetime of experience on the factory floor.
“My first job [was] cabinet maker, then I got a job at Holden, biscuit factory, steel fabrication,” he told 7.30.
“Then I got a job at Copperpot pate and dip factory. I was there for 10 years.”
He is now unemployed and believes his reading and writing skills and age are stopping him from finding work.
“Everything is on the computer,” he said.
“When you put a job application in you’ve got to put it in the computer. I can’t do that. Simple as that, I just can’t do that.
“If they put me on a forklift and show me what to do I’d probably pick it up after a while. You’ve got to go through the paperwork and safety and stuff.
“I know the safety stuff but you still got to write it down, that’s my biggest problem.”
Mr Cacciola said he had personally sought out courses to improve his reading and writing skills but wanted the Government to help more in this area as well as increase the Newstart payment.
He lives on about $40 a day.
“Sometimes I get cranky when I hear things about the politicians,” he said.
“They’ve got no problems paying the electric bills, they’ve got no problems paying anything.
“If they want to buy something they can get money out of the bank and buy it. I can’t do that.”
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