To really address housing affordability we need to think differently

The current election campaign has seen the two major parties put forward housing policies, both of which to varying degrees are aimed at the demand side of the equation. 

The problem is that for many decades, housing policies have overwhelmingly been geared toward increasing demand within the private-sector housing market. This has only served to pump prices and make it harder for first-home buyers to enter the market, and also increasing the age that people are buying their first home.

Policy Director, Greg Jericho, writes in a column for Guardian Australia, that we need to instead focus on the supply side - increasing the stock of housing - and we also need to be bold enough to look outside the typical private-sector model. 

The Australia Institutes' Nordic Policy Centre has proposed a number of measures that have been pursued in Norway, Sweden and Finland that show the solution to housing affordability is not about creating tax distortions that benefit homeowners or which serve only to transfer money from low-income people to the wealthy, but instead treats housing as a need rather than just a wealth-building asset. 

After decades of failure, the solution to housing affordability needs to be something other than more policies designed to lift housing prices. 

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Gig work undermines care quality and job security in the aged care sector

In 2021 the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommended that gig work, independent contracting and other ‘indirect’ employment arrangements be restricted in the publicly-funded aged care sector.

The Royal Commission found that, to develop the ‘well led, skilled, career-based, stable and engaged workforce’ required to provide high quality aged care, service providers should be directly employing aged care workers as employees.

Rather than adopting this recommendation, the Federal Government referred the matter to a Productivity Commission inquiry.

The Centre for Future Work made a submission to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into Aged Care Employment, in which we argue there is ample evidence to show there are unacceptable risks and consequences for both care workers and people receiving care, where workers are engaged as independent contractors, including as gig workers.

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Real wages should rise - anything else means declining living standards

This week the election campaign has turned to discussion about the increase to the minimum wage, with suggestions that an increase either in line with the curent rate of inflation of 5.1% or marginally above it (such as the ACTU's proposal of a 5.5% increase) would bring about a return to 1970s style wage sprials.

Labour market policy director, Greg Jericho, in his column in Guardian Australia, however notes that wages should grow faster than inflation, and so long as real wages are not outpacing productivity growth then such rises are not exerting any inflationary pressure. He also shows that given the recent estimates for inflation by the Reserve Bank, a 5.1% increase would not be enough to prevent the minimum wage falling in real terms over the next financial year. 

The problem is not that wages have been fuelling inflation, but that for the past 20 years real wages have risen slower than productivity .

We need to change the debate from a reflex that assumes low wages is the ideal to realising that given workers are the economy they should be rewarded fairly for their efforts and improvements in productivity.

You cannot say the economy is healthy if real wages are falling, and most certainly not if the lowest paid in Australia are seeing their living standards decline. 

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Rate rises are going to cause a housing affordability crunch

For most of the past decade the talk about housing affordability has focussed on house prices. As fiscal policy director, Greg Jericho notes in his Guardian Australia column, falling interest rates since November 2010 have made paying off a mortgage less onerous than it otherwise would have given the soaring house prices.

But that is about to change. 

The signal that interest rates are going to rise by possibly 2.5% points over the next 18 months means that for new mortgage holders the cost of repaying a mortgage is going to be harder than ever before - harder even than when interest rates hit 17% in 1990.

It is a hit that will only exacerbate standard of living problems as wages will struggle to keep up with the rising cost of of holding a mortgage - especially given the belief that wage rises need to be contained below inflation rises continues in economic debate.

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High inflation means real wages have plummeted

The March CPI figures showing that inflation rose 5.1% over the past 12 months is not just the highest level since the introduction of the GST it also signals the biggest fall in real wages since then as well. 

Labour market policy director, Greg Jericho, notes in his column in Guardian Australia that even if wages have increased by 2.5% in the next release (up from 2.3% in the 12 months to December) real wages will have fallen 2.5% in the past 12 months.

That would mean real wages would be back at 2014 levels and barely above where they were when the LNP took office in September 2013.

Worse still for low-income earners, in the past 12 months the prices of non-discretionary items rose 6.6%. For those whose income goes more towards paying essential bills than does the average household, the pain of these price rises has been much higher. Their real wages have likely fallen by more than 3% in the past 12 months.

This is why any gloating about a recovery from the pandemic must be tempered to consider the reality of workers' lives. It is not enough to point to lower unemployment if real wages are falling faster than they ever have outside of the introduction of the GST - especially for lower income earners. 

That is not a recovery; that is a failure. 

With interest rate rises now very much on the way, without wage rises that account for inflation and properly reward for increases in productivity, workers standard of living is set to fall and see them back where they were nearly a decade ago

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We (still) need to talk about insecure work

Business groups and conservative media are happy to discuss insecure work as if it is nothing new - stable and part of a healthy economy that provides workers with independence. But this is not the case, with insecure forms of work - casual, gigs, temporary work and short-term contracts - taking up a growing share of jobs in Australia.

Taking this perspective to task in a piece for The New Daily, Jim Stanford and Mark Dean discuss how a much broader range of forms of insecure work face many workers in Australia today, with the issue not getting any better. This is not even a trend created by unavoidable conditions created by the pandemic; it has rather been a deliberate outcome of the federal government's labour market policies. Simply pretending it isn't an issue won't make it go away; nor will it provide us with sustainable solutions to the precarious situation that will keep facing more and more workers until the problem of insecure work is adequately addressed

This piece originally appeared in The New Daily here.


The election campaign needs to be more than a quiz show

The election campaign thus far has been dominated with gotcha questions that unfortunately have missed the vital need to examine the different policies on offer at a time when Australia's economy is in a state of extreme flux. 

Labour market and fiscal policy director, Greg Jericho writes in his Guardian Australia column that the recovery from the depths of the pandemic has overwhelmingly been on the backs of casual workers. It also has seen a large increase in the gap between people on JobSeeker and the number of unemployed. The rise of low paying, insecure work that has helped bolster the employment figures has also meant people who are working but still earning less than enough to keep out of poverty is remaining high.

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House prices means interest rates do not need to rise much to inflict great costs

The more than a decade long period of the Reserve Bank going without raising interest rates looks set to end. Rising inflation and the unwinding of the pandemic restrictions and border closures means that the emergency cash rate of 0.1% will soon go up. But at the moment the market expects before the end of next year that it will rise to above 3%.

But while that may have been a neutral rate in the past, the Centre's Fiscal and Labour Market Policy Director Greg Jericho, notes in his column in Guardian Australia, recent surges in house prices means such a rise would place an extreme burdon on mortgage payers - one not conducive to an economy still in recovery. 

It took nearly 6 years during the mining boom for the RBA to raise the cash rate by 300 basis points; currently the market anticipates the same rise occurring in 17 months.

That would massively limit economic growth for little purpose at a time when wage rises remains below inflation, and rather unlikely to occur given the Reserve Bank's recent hesitancy to slow the economy until real wage again start rising.

 

 

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A slap-dash budget revealing a government with no idea why it is in power

This year's budget was transparently targeted towards the May election.  

But as Fiscal and Labour Market Policy Director, Greg Jericho notes in his Guardian Australia column, the slap-dash and short-term nature of the measures reveals this government has lost any real reason for governing.

From the extra bonus of the low-middle income tax offset with no taper, which is now being used by businesses to argue against raising the minimum wage and the relative lack of concern about those in poverty while trying to exist on JobSeeker, this budget has all the hallmarks of an effort made up at the last minute and where poll numbers were more important than any economic figures

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A short-term budget with no vision or coherency

The 2022-23 budget is one of the most shameless election year budgets in memory. 

With the opportunity to use windfall gains in revenue to begin the fix of structural issues in the economy dealing with the low paid and essential services, the government instead has thrown money at voters in the hopes of re-election.

The Centre's Fiscal Director, Greg Jericho, goes through the budget numbers and finds that despite predictions of once again strong wage growth, the underlying assumptions are overly optimistic and would even still leave workers worse off than they were in the middle of 2019 until 2025.

The budget forecasts are for strong growth now, while the money is being pumped out, but once that ends we find yourself back with the same middling growth we had prior to the pandemic. 

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