Australian inequality ignored by Coalition

WHILE the Coalition has largely avoided acknowledging poverty in Australia, Labor's approach to welfare and social services goes only slightly further towards addressing the problem, a leading social services group says.

Both major parties and the Greens responded last week to a letter from the Australian Council of Social Services asking them to outline their social services plans.

The letter urged parties to increase welfare payments, reform the housing market, drive new efforts to supply social housing and do more to support those who had less.

ACOSS chief Dr Cassandra Goldie was disappointed by the Coalition's lack of proposals to help the poorest.

Dr Goldie said the Coalition had continued to "avoid acknowledging that inequality is a problem we need to tackle in Australia" and that more spending cuts announced in May would take the nation in "the wrong direction".

She said while the government had emphasised its "economic plan", its platform contained "no new major social policy proposals".

"However, a narrow focus on lifting GDP risks losing sight of its purpose: a decent life for everyone, with the priority being to lift the living standards of people being left behind," she said.

"Policies to stem growth in inequality must move from the periphery to the centre of public policy focus in the last weeks of this election campaign.

"Good social policy is not in competition with good economic policy - they are mutually reinforcing."

While the government has consistently argued for cutting the rising welfare budget, its main proposals to do so, as well as a $3.5 billion child care package, failed to pass the last Senate - a fate likely to repeat in the new parliament.

The Coalition has pledged to increase Family Tax Benefit A by $10 a fortnight if the $720 supplements are cut by 2018, but wider social policy plans seem absent from its campaign to date.

Labor has partially backed several government savings including halving FTB annual supplements to find budget savings - a major political backflip - while also pledging to review the Newstart Allowance and other social services payments.

Dr Goldie said Labor's approach was more balanced between economic and social policy aims, but the safety net for those on low incomes was still inadequate.

The Greens, she said, had made more positive commitments to anti-poverty targets and increasing social support payments and rent assistance.

But given alliances with the Greens have been all but ruled out, the political power exerted by the minor parties on the Senate crossbench will likely remain.