People on low incomes forced to skip meals as cost of living bites

Almost three quarters of people receiving income support are eating less or skipping meals due to the low rate of payments and rising cost of living, according to a new report by ACOSS.

The research – which surveyed 270 people living on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment in July and August 2023 – also found the upcoming increase to rates will not be enough to prevent “widespread distress”.

JobSeeker will be just $54 a day and Youth Allowance just $43 when the $20-a-week increase announced in the May Budget and 2.2 per cent indexation kick in on September 20.

When asked how much the increase will help them, 50 per cent of respondents said “not at all” and 41 per cent said “a little”.

The average Australian grocery bill is $160 a week, or $23 a day, while average unit rents are $510 per week, or $73 a day.

Of the 270 respondents surveyed, the report found:

  • 73% are eating less or skipping meals while 64% are cutting back on meat, fresh fruit, vegetables and other fresh items
  • 73% are cutting back on heating or cooling their homes, 62 per cent are cutting back on using lights, and 54% are taking fewer hot showers
  • 60% experienced difficulty affording the medicine or medical care they needed. 98% said that the low rate of income support harmed their mental health and 93% said it harmed their physical health
  • 72% said they use their car less than normal, and a further 15% don’t use their car at all. 52% had difficulty getting to work or appointments
  • 94% of people renting privately are in rental stress, paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

ACOSS Deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald said: “People relying on woefully low income support payments have been hit hard by the rising cost of living and are in severe financial distress.

“Australia’s income support payments are among the lowest in wealthy nations and do not cover the essentials of life such as rent, energy and food, causing serious harm to those who rely on them.

“People are regularly skipping meals, going without heating and cooling, forgoing essential medication and medical care, and experiencing social isolation.

“While every dollar counts, the $4-a-day increase this month will not go far at all when food, rent and clothes are getting more expensive.

“We must raise income support payments to at least the pension rate – currently $76 a day – to lift people out of poverty, improve wellbeing and support people to participate in employment and society.”

ACOSS is urging the government to:

  • Lift income support payments to at least the pension rate, currently $76 a day, including JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Abstudy, Special Benefit and Parenting Payment and index to wages as well as price movements.
  • Double Commonwealth Rent Assistance and benchmark to actual rents.
  • Establish a disability and illness supplement of at least $55 a week to recognise the additional costs that people with disability and chronic illness face.
  • Establish a single parent supplement that recognises the additional costs of single parenthood.


Current rate                  From September 20        Increase                 
JobSeeker $347 per week /
$50 per day
$375 per week /
$54 per day
$28 per week /
$4 per day
Youth Allowance      $281 per week /
$40 per day
$301 per week /
$43 per day
$20 per week /
$2.86 per day


Read the full report.