The term ‘‘sharing the pain’’ was prominent when Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered the federal government’s budget on May 13.
This angered Dr Linda Tucker from the Illawarra Legal Centre, who believes the most vulnerable in the community – the young unemployed and the elderly – will pay the heaviest price under measures outlined in the budget, such as tough new rules for Newstart allowances for under 30s.
‘‘This concept of sharing the pain – just saying it won’t make it so. It is not sharing the pain,’’ Dr Tucker said.
‘‘The pain is clearly disproportionate. Our concern with this budget is that it aggravates difficult situations for the people who can least afford to deal with it.’’
The Warrawong-based centre may lose one or two financial counsellors as a result of the budget but Dr Tucker is more concerned with the effect the measures outlined will have on an already stressed society.
‘‘The most vulnerable in our community are the ones we see all the time and it is only going to get harder for them,’’ she said.
‘‘Warrawong and the Illawarra generally have very high youth unemployment. The thought of people becoming unemployed under 30 and not being able to access assistance, well what do they do? It is not just like they can all go home to a happy home.
‘‘I think there is an assumption that there are these services out there which will somehow help these people get through.
‘‘It is all right for us, we are a paid legal centre, that’s what we are there to do, but there is now massive pressure on charities and volunteers. A lot of those people themselves are in dire straits. I think we are relying on civil society to fill the gap.’’
Dr Tucker’s views were supported by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), which said the budget failed to address the ongoing crisis for Australians needing legal assistance.
NACLC national convener Michael Smith said when people have legal problems it can impact their health, housing or safety dramatically.
‘‘Community legal centres are responding to people every day with legal problems such as family violence, employment issues, debt, consumer problems and tenancy disputes. These are problems that cannot wait and delays just make the problems more difficult, stressful and expensive,’’ he said.
Mr Smith said the federal government announced funding cuts to community legal centres of $19.6million over four years in December 2013.
‘‘Despite strong evidence and increasing demand, this budget has not reversed these cuts. These cuts will impact on Australians needing legal help when they most need it,’’ Mr Smith said.
Illawarra Forum chief executive Nicky Sloan also has grave fears for young people and low-income earners.
‘‘The most vulnerable in our society will be further disadvantaged as a result of some of the key initiatives of the budget,’’ Ms Sloan said.
‘‘The tightening of eligibility criteria for welfare payments, the freezing of family payments for two years, and the shifting of young people from Newstart to Youth Allowance will force more people under the poverty line.’’