For young Australians, this budget is not responsible or sustainable

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Treasurer Jim Chalmers unveiled the 2023-24 federal budget on Tuesday night, skirting around the issues that are most pressing for young people while boasting the first surplus in 15 years.

For a budget that emphasises support for households and those who are struggling with the cost of living crisis, there is minimal relief for young Australians on many of these issues.

An increase in government rent assistance of an extra $31 a fortnight for low-income renters will barely scratch the surface of the rising rent in big cities.Credit: Flavio Brancaleone

The $14.6 billion cost-of-living package includes an increase of $40 per fortnight for JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Austudy payments. This increase will not be implemented until September, which will mean months of extreme budgeting over winter for many struggling students.

This is below what many people expected or hoped for, especially considering a committee selected by the treasurer and the social services minister called for “substantial increases” to the welfare payments last month.

While any increase in financial assistance like Youth Allowance is welcomed, it’s hard to see how $2.85 a day will be enough given the current inflation rate of 7 per cent and the fact household essentials like dairy and bread are rising double digits.

Chalmers said that this increase is the government “doing what we can afford” but with a $4.2 billion surplus it appears that the minimal increases are a choice that considers the inflationary pressures before the tough realities many young people are facing.

Additionally, an increase in government rent assistance of 15 per cent (an extra $31 a fortnight) for low-income renters will barely scratch the surface of the rising rent in big cities; vacancies are at all-time lows, and the weekly cost of rent has risen by over 20 per cent on last year.

“You’re pricing young people out of the market,” says Max Richardson, who is worried about the increasing cost of his Brunswick rental.“So far it’s gone up by $100, and I’m expecting a similar increase in the year to come.”

While he welcomes any increase to the rental assistance cap, he notes $31 extra a fortnight isn’t going to make any substantial change to everyday people’s budgeting.

Just as concerning as what’s in the budget is what is left out. Young people are concerned by the lack of any major climate policy and no response to the student debt crisis.

For the young Australians who helped Labor take power last election, this budget isn’t delivering enough on climate action.Credit: Luis Ascui

For the young Australians who were crucial in swinging the government from Liberal to Labor at the last election and who voted overwhelmingly for climate change action, this budget isn’t delivering enough.

The key climate-change measure of the budget is a $2 billion “hydrogen headstart” program that will be further developing the clean energy industry in Australia, and $1 billion in low-cost loans to households to install solar panels.

This pales in comparison to the spending on other issues like defence, which has been at the fore of the national conversation since the AUKUS announcement in March and will be receiving an additional $30 billion over the next decade.

This is hard to reconcile, given that the Albanese government was elected on a promise of swift climate action amid an onslaught of warnings from scientists to act now or risk global climate catastrophe.

“These measures feel like the government is trying to save face and appear to be taking climate action, without making any big moves to create immediate change,” says Audrey Rouse, an 18-year-old student who feels let down by the government’s budget. She says that both herself and her peers consider climate change their number one priority.

“When we then hear about the approval of new coal mines and gas developments, it’s hard to take any commitment to climate policy seriously,” she says.

Another issue front of mind for young people is the impending HELP loan indexation, which will see the cost of debts rise by 7.1 per cent on June 1, increasing the total student debt in Australia to just under $80 billion.

Despite calls by MPs to pause the indexation of HECS given the record inflation over the past year, the government has not engaged in any conversation about how this debt is hurting young people’s financial situations. There was no mention of the issue in the budget.

As questions circulate about how the government’s spending will impact inflation in the coming months, young people feel they are being left behind and are bracing for more economic pain.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Georgia York is a freelance journalist and writer.

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