Urgent action needed to fix gaps in COVID Disaster Payments, increase JobSeeker and reinstate targeted JobKeeper

28 June 2021

ACOSS is calling on the Federal Government to urgently fix gaps in the COVID Disaster Payment arrangements, as part of a national plan to protect jobs and incomes that should be agreed at this week’s National Cabinet Meeting.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“In the recent Victorian lock down, we called on the Federal Government to put in place a plan to protect jobs and incomes during lockdowns that included disaster payments, like those paid to people affected by bushfires or floods.

“While we welcomed that the Federal Government adopted our proposal to put in place disaster-type payments for lockdowns, there are major gaps in these payments and many are being left to struggle without enough support.”

The COVID Disaster Payments are payments of $325 per week for people who lose less than 20 hours of paid work per week due to a lockdown or $500 for people who lose 20 or more hours. They only apply after the first seven days of a lockdown and do not apply to people receiving social security payments like JobSeeker or Youth Allowance even though one in 3 women and one in 5 men receiving JobSeeker typically are also in paid work. People in this situation are on some of the lowest incomes and will suffer dramatic losses of income.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie continued:

“Payments should apply for the entire duration of lockdowns, not just after the first week. In the event the duration of a lockdown is not known from the outset, people should be back paid for the first week of the lockdown.

“We welcome that the COVID Disaster Payment applies to people on temporary working visas, however, most international students on these visas are only allowed to work 20 hours per week so will only be eligible for the lower payment, which is below the poverty line and only slightly higher than the current JobSeeker rate.

“Getting by on the paltry rate of JobSeeker is impossible at the best of times, let alone in a lockdown, when there are additional costs for people to stay safe. The reality is, it is easier to protect yourself and others from COVID when you have a safe roof over head.

“In addition to fixing the COVID Disaster Payment, we urgently need JobSeeker and Youth Allowance to be increased above the poverty line – this is about basic human decency, as well as public health and economic stimulus.

“We also need to see JobKeeper reinstated in a targeted way to help people keep their jobs. We have consistently argued that targeted JobKeeper payments be retained to assist people employed in industries and regions that are still adversely affected by lockdowns or border closures.

“Just as timely vaccination and effective quarantine are vital to combatting COVID, so too is national action to ensure people’s incomes and jobs are protected. With rents skyrocketing and the essentials of life still needing to be paid for during lockdowns, it is more important than ever that the Federal Government fixes these key income support payments – disaster payments, JobSeeker and JobKeeper – and extends them to everyone who needs them.” Dr Goldie said.