With Australian governments and communities still grappling with the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, more than 2 million people without paid work face grave uncertainty about how they will make ends meet when the Federal Government cuts Coronavirus Supplement payments again on 31 December by another $100 to just $150 per fortnight.
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:
“The Federal Government is on a course to undo the remarkable achievement of alleviating poverty for 2.3 million people, plus over a million children, by repeatedly slashing the historic Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight introduced in March.
“People struggling to get by on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, parenting and family payments were suddenly able to pay their rent and bills, buy fresh fruit and vegetables, get the medical care they needed and regularly eat three meals a day.
“We heard from many families and individuals who were able to buy new clothes and shoes, visit the dentist and take care of medical needs, some for the first time in years.
“As 2021 begins and everyone tries to put 2020 behind them, people without paid work will be trying to get by on just $50 a day, which simply isn’t enough to cover housing, food, transport and bills.”
The number of people on JobSeeker doubled to 1.5 million during the pandemic and is expected to rise still more when JobKeeper ends in March.
There is currently only one job vacancy available for every 11 people looking for a job or more paid working hours, and even fewer jobs in regional areas.
“To make matters worse, the Government has not ruled out sending people back to the old, brutal Newstart rate of just $40 a day in March.
“Millions are facing agonising decisions like whether they will be able to afford to stay in their homes after the New Year, and which essential items – like food, bills or medicine, they will have to cut back on even further.
“This is not the way to restore economic confidence in order for the country to recover from recession. Both people and the economy need security in order to be able rebuild.
“We know that JobSeeker is an investment in people’s futures both for people relying on this lifeline payment and for jobs – virtually every dollar of the Coronavirus Supplement goes straight back into the local economy helping to keep other people in employment.’
“We need a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker of at least $25 a day more than the old Newstart rate, so that people can cover the basics.
“This minimum increase would bring the Jobseeker payment to only just above the poverty line, and closer to the pension rate, as it used to be. It would a much better spend than the high-end income tax cuts that the Government is planning.
“We also need to fix rental assistance and restore adequacy to family payments and deliver billion of investment into social housing. See ACOSS proposal for fixing the adequacy of social security here.
“Today we must also remember that over 1 million people who rely on temporary visas still don’t have access to any regular income support at all. Many face destitution. It is vital we close this glaring gap if we are to truly bring communities together in 2021.
“In 2020, Australian governments showed what they are capable of doing to protect people and keep people safe. Now is the time to secure people’s futures, focusing first on those most in need.
“This year has been tough for many but for millions of people with the least, their need is urgent. As we rebuild from the crisis, we can’t turn our back on those who are being left behind,” Dr Goldie said.