The federal government’s emergency COVID-19 disaster payments are failing to provide any assistance to those who need it most, welfare groups warn.
As Victoria, South Australia and great swathes of New South Wales remain in lockdown, the Australia Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has raised alarm at the fact that federal payments have excluded more than a million Australians subsisting on welfare payments.
The organisation is urgently calling on Canberra to change the program’s eligibility requirements, which currently does not recognise those receiving Centrelink, even if they have lost part-time work.
“Denying people disaster support because they were already experiencing some kind of hardship or need defies logic. Support should be offered to all stood down workers and people locked out of paid work,” Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King said.
Under the current support package, those who have lost 20 hours of work or more in a single week are eligible for a $600 support payment. Those who have lost between eight and 20 hours receive $375, but anyone receiving Centrelink are automatically excluded.
“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?” ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said.
“Many have lost part-time paid work that they relied on to cover the rent, with social security payments like JobSeeker and Youth Allowance being well below the poverty line.”
It comes after the JobSeeker supplement – which rescued 150,000 residents from homelessness last year – was terminated earlier this year in exchange for a permanent $25 a week increase on Newstart level payments.
It leaves individuals receiving a maximum of $620.80 per fortnight. Additionally, recipients are able to earn a maximum of $150 income per fortnight working before their welfare payments are slashed.
During lockdown, however, most are unable to earn any income, leaving them to subsist on just $44 a day. ACOSS are now calling on Canberra to do better.
“We need to immediately extend disaster payments to lift all incomes up to $600 per week, especially for those renting,” Goldie said.
“This would ensure everyone can cover the basics, including a roof overhead, to keep everyone safe. This means lifting social security payments above the poverty line [to] at least $475 per week [for individuals], increasing Rent Assistance by 50%, and additional supplements for people with disability or chronic illness and single parents.”
“This is a public health issue – people can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford to keep it.”