ACOSS and members of the community sector jointly urge all parties and candidates to commit to lifting income support payments and investing in social housing should they form government at this federal election.
Throughout the pandemic, our sector was on the front lines responding to community needs during the lockdowns, helping people get through social isolation and economic chaos. We saw the devastation caused by COVID-19 but we also saw the power of governments to improve the lives of people on the lowest incomes. During the first wave of the pandemic, the government reduced poverty, saved over 700,000 jobs, and found safe accommodation for people sleeping on the streets.
The subsequent two years and successive waves of COVID-19 have been a different story. The Federal Government rolled back many of these supports and failed to protect people most in need, saying it was time for the government to get out of the way.
As our political leaders prepare for this Federal election, we urge them to implement policies that build on the best we saw during the pandemic, rather than turn their backs on millions when they need our government the most.
Every day, over 3 million people including at least 750,000 children across the country experience poverty and inequality.
As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, everyone should at least have a secure place to call home, decent food and the other essentials of life. Whether in cities or regions, regardless of our age, background or country of origin, whether we are citizens or people seeking asylum, everyone should be protected from hunger and homelessness.
The good news is we know what works.
As people and organisations who are committed to a fair and equitable Australia, we have reached universal agreement about how to tackle poverty and inequality and deliver the basic social protections we all need. The Australian Council of Social Service, community organisations, allies and leading experts write to ask you to support the two game-changer policies that would be the most effective ways to help end poverty and transform the lives of millions with the least.
We seek your commitment that, should you win government this election, your government will:
- Lift income support payments above the poverty line so everyone can cover the basics.
- Invest in 25,000 social housing units each year, as part of a National Housing Plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, and now the extensive flooding affecting so many across Australia’s eastern states exposed fundamental weaknesses in our most basic social, economic, and environmental protections.
However, in 2020, we saw what happens when governments step up. When the Federal Government temporarily doubled unemployment payments at the start of the pandemic, it halved poverty, saved over 700,000 jobs and significantly reduced rental stress and homelessness.
Lifting social protections above the poverty line meant people receiving JobSeeker and other payments could afford the essentials, buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and warm jumpers for their children to get through winter. People could sleep and plan better: for their health, getting a job, education, and a better future.
The next Federal Government should heed the lessons of 2020 and strengthen our basic social protections. The next Federal Government must not turn its back on millions when they need help most, which sees grandparents retire into poverty and families struggle to stay housed. This is also crucial if we are to properly support communities to get through natural disasters, which are only set to increase in frequency and ferocity.
We call on you to deliver the following basic social protections should you form government to ensure everyone has an adequate income and a home:
There are 30% more people receiving working-age payments across Australia compared with before the pandemic. That means that more people than ever are finding it impossible to afford rent, food, keep a car on the road, and pay for other essentials like utilities.
Women continue to be overrepresented among people receiving income support, particularly older women, and single parents. Single parents receiving income support are one of the most at-risk groups of living in poverty, and 95% of people receiving Parenting Payment Single are women.
In addition, we know that many women have been unable to escape violent homes because they do not have the funds, or access to affordable housing they need to find safety.
There is strong support for lifting income support to above the poverty line. Our November Ipsos polling of five marginal seats found almost 70% support lifting JobSeeker above the poverty line, and a small majority would change their vote to support a party that committed to doing so.
- Raise base rates of income support to at least $70 a day to ensure people living in poverty can cover the basics and have the resources to begin new careers, retrain and look for paid work.
- Increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50% to better cover private rental, which has skyrocketed around Australia.
- Index payments in line with wages twice per year, as well as CPI (working-age payments are currently only indexed in line with CPI).
Everybody deserves a safe and stable home. Yet in the past year, rents have increased much faster than incomes, growing by 9.4% across Australia and 12.1% in regional areas. As a consequence more families have been pushed into financial hardship and homelessness. In 2021, 45.7% of people receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance were spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing up from 40.5% in 2019 (and 29.4% in 2020 when people had increased income support).
At the same time that private rentals are becoming less affordable, social housing is shrinking. In 1994, it made up six per cent of all housing. Today it is just four per cent.
Building more social and affordable housing would provide the homes needed for people pushed out of private rental. It will create jobs, help balance our housing system and reduce homelessness.
- Federal Government budget commitment to building at least 25,000 social housing properties each year.
- A National Housing Plan led by the Federal Government and developed in partnership with the states and territories.
- A National Homelessness strategy that addresses access to affordable housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and other issues driving homelessness, including inadequate income support, domestic and family violence, and poor access to mental health and other services.
As the pandemic has shown, unemployment and losing your home can happen to anyone. Our current set of social protections is failing to protect those most in need from poverty and homelessness. Lifting income support permanently as well as increasing social and affordable housing are the two best ways to give people in Australia security and safeguard them from future economic shocks.
Diverse Communities & Social Services (DCSS Australia – National LGBTIQ+ & Indigenous Community Justice & Social Services Charity) / Not-for-Profit & Charity Community Consultants (NFPCCC)
Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare
Mountains Community Resource Network
Catholic Social Services Australia
Community Mental Health Australia
Sydney Community Forum
Australian Health Promotion Association
Uniting NSW. ACT
Christians Against Poverty
Centre for Women’s Economic Safety
Economic Justice Australia
Woden Community Services
Australian Association of Social Workers
Baptist Care Australia
Women With Disabilities Australia
Jesuit Social Services
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Common Ground Queensland
Anglicare Central Queensland
The Youth Health Forum of Australia
Australian Disability Ltd
Financial Counselling Australia
Anglicare Tasmania Inc.
Financial Counselling Victoria Inc
Mountains Community Resource Network (MCRN)
FECCA – Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia
South Australian Financial Counsellors Association
Brotherhood of St. Laurence
Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Settlement Services International
Health Justice Australia
Community Information & Support Victoria
Queensland Youth Housing Coalition
Mackillop Family Services
National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare
Australian Health Promotion Association
Catholic Social Services Victoria
Family Violence Legal Service Aboriginal Corporation
Diversity ACT Community Services
Full Stop Australia
Family & Relationship Services Australia
Lismore & District Financial Counselling
Life Without Barriers
Council to Homeless Persons Victoria
Public Health Association of Australia
Housing for the Aged Action Group Inc.
Youth Affairs Council Victoria
Australian Centre for Leadership for Women
South Australia Council of Social Service
Tasmanian Council of Social Service
Queensland Council of Social Service
Northern Territory Council of Social Service
New South Wales Council of Social Service
Australian Capital Territory Council of Social Service
Western Australian Council of Social Service