A group of 40 prominent Australians have made a call for the unemployment benefit to be lifted by $50 a week.

In an open letter, heads of welfare and charity groups, unions and indigenous organisations as well as World Vision's Tim Costello, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside and feminist Eva Cox have urged the federal government to lift people on the Newstart Allowance out of poverty.

"The Newstart base payment of $35 a day has not been increased in real terms since Prime Minister Keating's increase in 1994," the letter says.

"The rate is now so low it is unbearable to live on and has become a major barrier to supporting people into paid work."

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the $1.8 billion price tag was affordable.

"Increasing Newstart by $50 a week will help lift over one million people out of this despairing situation, and provide a welcome stimulus to the economy because every single cent will be spent on mere survival," she said.

However, the call is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Early this week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard revealed a $12 billion budget revenue shortfall.

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