The findings of a new survey conducted by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has revealed that 85% of income support recipients cannot access a COVID disaster payment.
In response, ACOSS has called for COVID disaster payments to be extended to all people without paid work to at least $600 per week. They also want parliament to pass legislation that will lift working-age income support payments just above the poverty line (equivalent to the pension rate) at $475 per week.
The ‘Living in lockdown’ survey, which interviewed 216 people, found that people who received government assistance for unemployment and related payments were worse off in 2021 compared with last year. A total of 80% of respondents admitted they were ‘seriously struggling to survive’ and 40% were feeling less safe compared to 2020.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said it was ‘unconscionable’ to leave behind those in society who most needed support. She added that an urgent extension of disaster payments should be made available to all people on society security or without other incomes, including those on temporary Australian visas.
“The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that there were four times as many deaths from COVID-19 in the lowest socio-economic group (which includes most people on social security payments) compared with the highest socio-economic group,” Goldie said.
“Even the OECD is recommending that Australia lift our appallingly low level of unemployment payment – at $44 a day it’s the very lowest rate of all comparable countries. People on Youth Allowance and Austudy are at an even lower rate of $36 a day.”
“As soon as parliament is recalled, it must pass legislation to lift social security payments to above the poverty line including JobSeeker, commonwealth rent assistance and family payments,” she said.
A total of 96% of respondents to the ACOSS survey reported that they were ‘seriously struggling with the cost of living, and 41% reporting that they risked homelessness because of expensive housing costs.
Goldie noted that housing costs were the biggest contributor to stress experienced by people on lower incomes. A single person with no children would only be eligible to receive $70 per week in commonwealth rent assistance, she said, advocating for a boost by at least 50% to this payment.
“People in Sydney can’t find rental properties for less than $340 a week (and up to $540 a week in the city),” Dr Goldie said.
Social security program director for ACOSS, Charmaine Crowe, said cost of living challenges prevented some of the most vulnerable people in the community from getting vaccinated against the COVID-19.
“When people can’t afford to cover basic costs like food, rent, electricity, medicine and public transport, they find it harder to travel to get vaccinated and are more exposed to the risk of COVID-19,” Crowe said.
ACOSS also recommended that the government index all income support payments twice per year, in line with wage growth and prices. The council also called for more social housing investment to address a critical supply gap, as well as highlighting the need for the government to provide single parents, and people experiencing disability or illness supplementary payments for the additional cost of living they faced.