New COVID restrictions hit lowest income workers hardest – local leaders call for action

18 July 2021

The Community Sector is extremely concerned for the welfare of about 800,000 lowest income people at risk of financial hardship in lockdown areas in Greater Sydney and Victoria especially those registered with Centrelink for social security payments who can’t access the Disaster payment  and those with no income support at all including asylum seekers.

The Community sector calls on the Federal Government to remove the bar on COVID lockdown disaster payments to extend these payments to all people affected in lockdowns.

ACOSS also calls for all income support payments to be lifted above the poverty line of absolute minimum $475/week for individuals and $718/week for couples, and extended to all without enough paid work including people on temporary visas.

Elfa Moraitakis, CEO, SydWest Multicultural Service said:

“The community of Western Sydney understands the importance of the lockdown in order to protect the community. Our already highly anxious casual and part-time workers put their own lives at risk to protect the elderly and people with disabilities. While their hours have been reduced or they have been stood down, the ongoing assumption that they can easily apply for any type of support online, causes additional stress before they even realise they are not eligible for income support.”

“The majority of our frontline workers are women that due to the nature of their job are receiving additional Centrelink benefits to survive with dignity. Any barrier to prevent them from accessing assistance will result in poverty and additional extreme mental destress that will impact the whole family unit.”

Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO Violet Roumeliotis said:

“The NSW Government’s immediate action to shut-down non-critical workplaces in the local government areas of Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool, although understandable, will cause severe financial hardship on workers and families already vulnerable to the pandemic’s negative economic impacts.

“The decision over the weekend requiring people in western-Sydney Local Government Areas to remain in their homes puts industries that rely on casual workers such as hospitality, cleaning and care-giving under enormous pressure.

“As an organisation that works extensively in these impacted LGAs, we are very concerned for people’s livelihoods and mental state as well as their health. Such measures are a double blow to these communities, who are already bearing the brunt of excessive surveillance measures.

“We call on the government to remove the bar on Disaster Payments for those on social security, support ACOSS’s request to increase social security benefits to $475 per week, and reconsider a more collaborative approach to supporting our western-Sydney communities. ”

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“Our big concern right now is for those people who overnight lost their income from casual or part-time jobs, or are prevented from getting paid work, who are also registered as JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or Parenting Payment recipients and are locked out of accessing the Disaster payment system. [see table below]

“These are students, older women, single parents who have been hit hard by this pandemic again and again – how will they keep a roof over their heads or food on the table?

“You can earn up to $609/week and still be on Centrelink’s system, even if they only pay you $1/fortnight, but because of recording social security, you are barred from the Disaster payment.

“Even if they qualify for the maximum social security payment, on JobSeeker it’s only $315/week or $44/day and on Youth Allowance it’s even less – $256/week or $36/day.

“We now have a two-class income support response, with colleagues getting $600 only because they were not getting any social security.

“One in three women receiving social security are also in employment. Now with no paid work, they are facing destitution and many of them care for children and others. All are locked out of getting paid work to top up poverty level social security.

“This is a public health issue – people can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford it.”

“Income support must be fixed so it is adequate for all affected. It is unconscionable that people with the least, hit hardest, have been excluded.”

 ACOSS analysis of Department of Social Security figures shows that the local government areas with the strictest lockdown requirements in Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown also cover four Federal Electorates with the highest numbers of people on low incomes in NSW.

Local Govt Area           Electorate      Receiving social security
Fairfield                             Fowler                 23,224
& Liverpool                        McMahon          19,996

Canterbury/                       Blaxland            22,351
Bankstown                          Watson              18,092

View ACOSS analysis here           

Download ACOSS Media Briefing here