Report shows dramatic increase in financial distress in lockdowns & demand for help from charity emergency relief services

Online searches for emergency relief services have sky-rocketed following lockdowns in NSW and Victoria, finds a report by the Australian Council of Social Service, released today.

The report shows that since the start of the Sydney lockdown to July 14, online searches for emergency relief services rose by more than 800% through Ask Izzy, a mobile website operated by Infoxchange, that connects people in need with housing, a meal, money help, health and wellbeing services, family violence support and counselling. Searches for financial assistance have doubled in Sydney since lockdown began. It also shows that Foodbank NSW & ACT is now processing as many hampers a day as they did in a week before lockdowns began.

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, the peak body for the community sector, said:
“Our members are reporting a huge surge in financial distress amongst people in lockdowns, with surges in demand for emergency relief services and people desperate for support. While community services are doing all they can to help, we need to urgently fix income support arrangements so they do not exclude those on the lowest incomes. There are now over one million people in lockdown relying on social security payments such as JobSeeker or Youth Allowance, who are excluded from the COVID disaster payments. Due to lockdowns, many have lost part-time paid work that they relied on to supplement the paltry social security payments. All of them are restricted in finding paid work because of the lockdown,” Dr Goldie said.

Brianna Casey, CEO, Foodbank Australia, said:
“Foodbank is doing an extraordinary job of treating the personal hardship symptoms of the pandemic through the provision of vitally important food relief, but what is urgently needed is a focus on the cause: growing inequality and poverty. Ensuring vulnerable Australians have access to adequate income support is crucial if we are to improve food security and help vulnerable Australians bounce back from COVID.”

David Spriggs, CEO, Infoxchange Group said:
“Infoxchange has seen a massive increase in usage of Ask Izzy during the COVID-19 pandemic with more people than ever before seeking support. Requests for food, emergency relief and financial support have spiked significantly during lockdowns, while demand for housing support, mental health and family violence services have been increasing steadily over the course of the pandemic and are now at record levels. We hope that by sharing our anonymous usage data we can provide insights into the level of demand across the community and help inform the sector’s response.”

Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, said:
“Single mothers are shouldering the cost and responsibility of home-schooling and are overwhelmed by the financial burden of this lockdown. The digital divide is on display whilst the cupboards are bare.”

Sandra Elhelw-Wright, CEO, Settlement Council of Australia, said:
“People need to be able to put a roof over their heads and food on the table in order to stop working and stay home. Our members are reporting a significant increase in emergency relief requests from people of migrant and refugee background in their communities. We urgently need to support them as part of the public health response.”

James Toomey, CEO, Mission Australia, said:
“Denying access to disaster relief payments to people who receive any income support is a kind of reverse means-testing. COVID-19 is a non-selective virus and responses should mirror it.”

Chris Povey, CEO, Justice Connect, said:
“We are working with a range of people in crisis including those exposed to eviction into homelessness and people experiencing elder abuse. We see many struggling to pay the rent, unable to put food on the table and missing out on essential health care needs. We know what’s right, and we know what works – adequate income support.”

Toni Wren, Executive Director, Anti-Poverty Week, said:
“We know that more than 1 in 6 children are living in poverty across Australia. Anti-Poverty Week is particularly concerned about the impact on families with children reliant on the low working age payments. Many will be struggling with rent, food and home schooling. Too many may not be even able to afford the internet access, others may have multiple children sharing a single device.”

Dr Don Perlgut, CEO, Community Colleges Australia, said:
“All things are secondary to living in a safe and secure environment with sufficient funds to meet basic needs. The vulnerable and disadvantaged learners who study with Australia’s adult and community education providers cannot engage in learning without their basic needs being met.”

Key findings include:
• Online searches in NSW for emergency relief services on Ask Izzy increased by over 800% during the period from 26 June to 14 July 2021
• Searches for financial assistance in Ask Izzy have doubled in number during the 2021 Greater Sydney lockdown period
• During the Victorian lockdown in 27 May to 10 June, there was a 120% increase in searches for emergency relief, with almost one in four searches relating to food relief.
• Searches for financial assistance rose by 76% in the first 10 days of the May-June Victorian lockdown
• Foodbank NSW & ACT has a backlog of over 10,000 food relief requests as at 19 July 2021
• International students have made 20,000 requests for food hampers since 6 July 2021
• Foodbank is now processing as many hampers a day as they did in a week before lockdown began, 2,500 – 3,500 emergency relief hampers a day.

Read the report.