A Letter to Australia’s Prime Minister

This is a cruel policy to withhold covid relief support from income support recipients published today in The Guardian Australia.  Your policy is putting hundreds of thousands of people’s health and well-being into the garbage. 

Your policy basically says: “We don’t care if you become homeless.  We don’t care if you starve to death.  We don’t care if you die in the gutter.”

You need to immediately include all income recipients including Parent Payment, JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy. The people who applied for these payments to supplement casual income in weeks their working hours dropped are not greedy, they are sensible. Many of these people live pay cheque to pay cheque and if they did not take responsibility by applying for government income support they would put them selves at risk of homelessness and this would cost society a whole lot more than their social security benefits.

If you don’t extend the help to these people, the consequences for social stability are going to be dire.  We will see an increase in morbidity and mortality.  How can you justify this when there are as few as 75 affordable private rentals for someone on the sole parent pension in the entire country and a 10+ year waiting list for social housing in cities like Sydney. 

Your government needs to immediately implement a building program using the $3 bn you have under NHFIC and actually implement this funding to build the 500,000 affordable homes Australia needs.  Until people can actually live on the absolute pittance this government calls welfare, you must include any casual workers who also receive income support in your scheme.

This policy is obviously based off of misguided ideology.  Stop pretending this is justified.  Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes were both on your side of politics, and both would have warned you about the terrible consequences of this policy.  All you are doing is pushing voters to vote Green. Pushing voters to vote Labor. You have proven that you don’t care about Australian people, and people are not stupid.  The can see what the government thinks of them.  People on “the Dole” are no longer a minority.  So many people will experience what the Dole is really like now, experience the hunger, and the Australian people I suspect will demand better social security in this country, just like Keynes suggested after the Great Depression and the War.  If you ignore this, you and your friend’s way of life will be destroyed.  The whole point of having an adequate social security system is to

1. Keep the workforce healthy and in homes even when they are out of work. 

2. Give people options to find good quality well paid work. 

3. Prevent social unrest that lead to increased crime and higher chance of revolutions. 

You and any politician should best remember any society is only three meals from revolution.  This is your “Let them eat cake” moment. This is just bad policy. 

JobSeeker needs to be permanently raised. We need to build 500,000 affordable homes.

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What Australia needs going forward is a decent and fair welfare safety net. Not a punitive one.  We need to take care of each other and not allow people to live in relative poverty in Australia.  The JobSeeker rate should be permanently raised to its current coronavirus #covid19 level.  We don’t know that all those jobs that were lost will be recreated.  We don’t know the economy will reset.  What I do know is that people cannot live above the poverty line in Australia on ~$300 a week if they have to pay rent. That is just a reality.  If we return JobSeeker to the previous Newstart rate, we will I think, risk much higher homelessness, inequality, and relative poverty of young people, and increasingly families and children in Australia.

If you are living in poverty — how are you to find your way out of it without a helping hand?  I hope that if coronavirus has taught us anything is that these social safety nets were created after the war for a reason.  We should work as a society and care about each others welfare.  Every person is important.  Every job is critical. Government and super funds should be investing now in the 350,000 to 500,000 affordable housing needed in cities across Australia.  People need a safe place to live and they need work.

We are currently building only 3000 affordable dwellings a year (1).  A flaccid and weak attempt to deliver what the nation and it’s people need.  A failing on our people. Impotence in the investment into affordable housing over the last 25 years across the the nation has a created a shortfall of 433,000 homes (1).  Just mull on the number for a while, 433,000. That is almost half a million homes that should have been built already.  Homes we needed yesterday.  Homes that would help millions from falling into poverty.  Homes that would raise hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, in this country out of poverty (2).  Just before the pandemic hit, there were 3, 000, 000 — that’s 3 million people — in Australia living in poverty, that is  1 in 8 adults and 1 in 6 children.  Living.  In.  Poverty (2). With another 1 million unemployed now, that number could rise substantially, maybe by a quarter or even double if something isn’t done soon.

The nation needs stimulus — right now — at this moment. What better thing could we as a nation do than secure the future safety of shelter to our young and at risk populations?  I can’t think of a better way to stimulate the economy.  Much better return in the long run than tax cuts to big companies that we, at this time, can’t afford.

The picture I chose for this article is a wonderfully beautiful Art Deco — Depression era building in Sydney. An example of one of the many fine structures built back then.  We can build to stimulate our economy.  We have done it before.  We just need to prioritise what we need.

(1) Julie Lawson, Hal Pawson, Laurence Troy and Ryan van den Nouwelant https://theconversation.com/australia-needs-to-triple-its-social-housing-by-2036-this-is-the-best-way-to-do-it-105960 date accessed 10 May 2020

(2) Acoss. Poverty in Australia. Is there poverty in Australia? URL: http://povertyandinequality.acoss.org.au/poverty/ date accessed 10 May 2020

The Looming Sydney Housing Crisis

What is it that people say? It’s a recession until you loose your job, then it’s a depression. I feel it’s a bit like that with the Sydney housing market. It’s not a crisis, it’s a bubble, until your bubble pops and you are pushed out of the property and rental market because you’ve been out priced.

One of the problems with the Sydney housing market is that it’s been treated by many as an easy no brainer investment class. I’m talking about people who buy houses as an investment to sell at a profit rather than to live in them. It doesn’t really matter whether they are local baby boomer investors or overseas investors, the end result is that because there has been so much speculation in the market for so long, we in Sydney (and Melbourne) have seen an artificial elevation in house prices that is not linked to wage growth. This has ultimately out priced many younger people from the market, and basically anyone who wasn’t on the property ladder to begin with.

Now there is a phrase I have a real problem with “the property ladder”, which implies a buying and selling of properties to upgrade ones housing, presumably for comfort, but more recently (say the last decade at least) for sheer profit.

The thing about houses is they don’t generate any income until they are rented out or sold, and if you have a very big loan you won’t really see the revenue until you sell. People have seen housing as an easy get rich quick scheme, they don’t tend to loose value because people always need somewhere to live, and the more people started investing, the more new investors were drawn in. Until recently property investors (that sounds a bit ominous “investors”, but here I mean anyone who was not buying a property for themselves to live in long term) could buy in parts of Sydney and sell a year later making a 20% profit. It’s a bit reminiscent of other bubbles in the past, most recently the Bitcoin bubble which worked on the same easy money principle.

The problem with the housing bubble, is that it’s not just currency like in the case of Bitcoin, it’s houses, that is homes that people live in. If prices get too high many people are spending too much of their income on loan repayments or rising rent prices. This becomes a delicate balance and if something happens, like you loose your job or prices go up again or let’s say interest rates rise, some people are ultimately going to be pushed off the edge, when their bubble pops (e.g. they can’t make their mortgage repayments and default on their loan). This  can even be the first step towards homelessness. If you are a young person paying high rent with low wage growth and probably low wages due to the casualisation of the workforce that is happening in Australia, you can’t even save enough money to become an investor or home buyer to get yourself out of paying high rents.

The problem is, houses only really generate income when they are sold, and because people have seen the housing market as an easy way to make money there has been a massive wave of speculation. The housing market isn’t as complicated as the stock market, prices have tended to go up without the investor having to do much research or anything much once they have invested. Sure this has made some people rich, but the purpose of housing, something I think people in Australia and some other parts of the world have forgotten, is that houses should be viewed primarily as places for people to live in, not an income generating stream or investment class.

Investing in housing only pushes house prices up and doesn’t have any real benefit. Because really, if you own a place that is overvalued, there will eventually be a price adjustment (read price fall). You don’t really have a million dollars if you own a house valued at million dollars. You own a house and if you sell you will only receive what the market says it’s worth. You only have a million dollars if you sell that house for a million dollars and put that money in the bank.

People should be investing in local businesses and companies as those forms of investment do generate income and they can cause growth in the economy in areas that actually have some benefit to Australia like growth in jobs and wages. Australia has had so many great new technology companies leave because they couldn’t find investors here. The ones that spring first to my mind are the new energy solar power companies that went to China or the US when they couldn’t find investors here. There are your jobs of the future and they’ve all gone overseas and will never benefit Australia.

Australia having a trillion dollars in private home loan debt is not benefiting anyone except the banks that are selling the majority of the loans (1), who will see even more profits roll in when interest rates eventually rise, and they will eventually rise . It wasn’t that long ago real interest rates were around 6% and in the 1980’s they came close to 8% (2). I’m talking about real interest rates too here, not what the banks charged as the interest rate on their home loans which reached staggering levels close to 17% in the 1980’s. Anyone with a large home loan should be very concerned about what interest rate they are paying. If interest rates were raised a few percent higher without wage growth in Australia, many borrowers would default on their loans.

Being tied to high home loan repayments and rents also limits what households can spend as consumers, because all their income is going into housing. This also does nothing to stimulate wage growth and other parts of the economy.

To exacerbate the problem there has been very poor housing affordability policy by all levels government which has played a part in rising house prices and household debt.

The Housing Bubble and Homelessness

We are already seeing the effect of this bubble in the increase in homelessness in Sydney. Don’t think there is a connection between homelessness and rising house and rental prices? Think again. When the Government doesn’t provide enough crisis housing or long term housing for people on low incomes, and the unemployment policy is that if you leave an area with more jobs (like Sydney) for an area with less jobs (like a country town with a cheaper cost of living) you could be cut off unemployment benefits.

So picture the scenario,  you loose your job or you get sick and can’t work for a long period, then because of the drop in income you can’t pay your rent or mortgage and you loose that place. You can’t afford rent on a new place in your area because you haven’t found work again and there is not enough crisis accommodation for all who require it, so you have to find somewhere to go. You probably can’t leave Sydney and move somewhere cheaper because you will be cut off any unemployment benefits by the Government. If you can’t find a place you can afford in the city and unless you have someone who can support you you might eventually end up homeless. you might couch surf for a while, but one day you might run out of people to stay with or you might have some kids, and your friends don’t have room for all of you, so you are living in your car, until you can’t afford your car anymore.

This is a reality, and it is partially caused by housing speculation. There are however many other contributing factors to homelessness. Low wage growth, poor housing policy by Government, poor (or should I say stagnant and un-evolving) unemployment benefit policy and poor mental health and domestic violence policies by Government have all contributed to homelessness in Australia.