500,000 could be pushed on to welfare

UP TO half a million people could be pushed out of welfare payments and on to special emergency payments under the Abbott government's earn or learn policies, Senate estimates heard this week.

The revelation follows new legislation from the government to crack down on exemptions from strict eight-week "non-payment penalties" and a six-month halt on welfare for long-term unemployed.

Aimed at getting more long-term unemployed into jobs, the government's return to Howard government-era policies has faced fierce criticism from the Opposition and The Greens among others.

Part of the push, Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said this week, was to make sure penalties which should be applying to a minority of welfare cheats were actually applied.

But during Senate estimates hearings this week, Department of Social Services told senators the savings from cuts to welfare payments were set aside to fund "emergency payments" to ensure those left without welfare could pay for food and essentials.

Without providing much detail, public servants told the committee some of the $1.2 billion in welfare savings would be set aside for the payments.

The cut is expected to affect as many as 500,000 welfare recipients, single parents being an exception, over four years.

Labor has capitalised on the news, with families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin labelling the cuts and emergency payments a measure "designed to punish jobseekers".

But Mr Hartsuyker and other senior government ministers have maintained the cuts to welfare are essential if the government is to repair the budget.