Macklin isolated for Newstart comments

Labor MPs have continued to distance themselves from comments by Families Minister Jenny Macklin, who caused a furore by claiming she could survive on the dole.

Ms Macklin angered welfare groups by claiming she could live on Newstart payments of $246 a week - or about $35 a day - while defending cuts to single parents' benefits.

The minister, who earns about $850 a day, has since been challenged to prove it, while her Labor colleagues have dodged answering whether they too could survive on the dole.

MORE: How Berkeley mum survives on Newstart

MORE: Living on a $2-a-day diet

Treasurer Wayne Swan admitted yesterday that it would be tough to survive on $35 a day, which was why the government offered low-income families a range of "generous" extra payments.

Newstart was indexed annually against inflation and was boosted by additional benefits such as the School Kids Bonus and Family Tax Benefits A and B, he added.

"For people on low incomes they're very generous payments," Mr Swan said. He refused to say whether he could live on the dole, or whether the Gillard government would increase the Newstart allowance.

The Australian Council of Social Service claims Newstart hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years and must be raised by $50 per week to prevent worsening poverty.

Ms Macklin's comments also drew the ire of the 84,000 single parents eligible for parenting payments, who since January 1 are being moved to the Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union joined a growing chorus yesterday calling for Newstart to be increased, arguing it keeps the jobless in poverty and makes it difficult for them to find work.

"On 35 bucks a day you can barely feed and clothe yourself, let alone pay rent or a mortgage, catch public transport or drive a car to a job interview," national secretary Paul Bastian said.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek also wouldn't say if she could get by on $35 a day, but conceded it would be very hard to live on.

"I don't think anyone thinks it's easy to live on Newstart," Ms Plibersek said on radio.

Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt has challenged Ms Macklin to join him in living on the dole for a week. AAP

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop