As hours of paid work dive, those most in need of disaster support continue to be excluded

19 August 2021

With ABS figures today showing increased underemployment and that monthly hours of paid work have decreased by 3 million hours, ACOSS is calling on the Federal Government to stop excluding those who were unemployed going into the lockdown from disaster support.

While the overall unemployment figure has decreased, this is likely due to the lockdown disaster payments keeping people in jobs, although they are working little or no hours, rather than applying for unemployment payments.

The underemployment rate increased to 8.3% nationally and to 9.3% in NSW.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“People without paid work are restricted from trying to find employment due to lockdowns and, as underemployment grows, finding a job will get even harder.

“Everyone without paid work in lockdowns needs support to get through this crisis, especially people with the very least. But the Government is completely excluding people who didn’t have paid work going into lockdown from the $200 per week disaster payment.

“People looking for employment are affected by lockdowns and financial stress, whether they lost their job a fortnight ago or six months ago.

“We’re all being urged to stay at home but you can’t do that if you can’t afford to keep a roof over your head.

“The Government must urgently ensure that everyone is living above the poverty line by extending the $200 per week disaster support to everyone without paid work in lockdown. As soon as Parliament returns next week, the Government should increase social security payments above the poverty line ongoing. Doing this would reduce the uncertainty and distress of ongoing lockdowns and would also help keep sustain local businesses and jobs.

“People on unemployment payments are usually required to apply for 20 jobs a month straight after a lockdown. That puts a lot of stress on people worried about catching the more infectious strain of COVID, and when there are fewer jobs available since local employers are themselves still recovering from lockdowns.

“The Govt should act quickly to ease financial and other pressures on those who are doing it hardest in lockdowns.

“The Government must also invest in wage subsidies and training for the 890,000 people who’ve had the misfortune of being out of paid work for a year or more, or are at risk of being left behind as employment recovers,’’ Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS is writing to the Prime Minister and National Cabinet to again call for disaster payments to be urgently extended to all of those on income support or without other incomes, and for social security payments to be lifted above the poverty line as soon as Parliament returns.