November 29, 2020

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‘Now is not the time to cut the coronavirus supplement’

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The $550 coronavirus supplement has transformed lives. As a sector, we must now work harder...

The $550 coronavirus supplement has transformed lives. As a sector, we must now work harder than ever to ensure the October budget includes enough funding to maintain it for the duration of the economic recession, writes Conny Lenneberg.

Sometimes you find hope in the most extraordinary places, a ray of light in the darkest of times.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence launched an initiative to find out how people were coping. It wanted to hear from those who were unemployed, those who had recently lost their jobs, single mothers, young people and those at risk of homelessness.

What we found was startling. Instead of despair and pessimism there were stories of hope, even stories of transformation. 

“What we found was startling. Instead of despair and pessimism there were stories of hope, even stories of transformation.”

One family told us that for the first time they were able to eat three meals a day. Previously there were only three or four days in the week when they all could afford to eat meals. Sitting down to breakfast together each morning was a new experience.

Another father of two young children, Tim, told us that for the first time he could afford nappies and formula for his seven-month-old, as well as, food and clothes for his three-year-old toddler and still have enough for himself and his wife to eat well.

Others have spoken about being able to afford fresh food for the first time, of being able to buy their medicines and pay their rent on time. 

The difference? It has been the government’s $550 coronavirus supplement. It’s a government policy that should be applauded. 

It has taken a global pandemic to expose the inadequacies of our nation’s social security payments. It has taken COVID-19 to decimate our economy and create unprecedented levels of unemployment for our leaders to understand the rates are just too low.

You cannot live on just $40 a day – the underlying rate of the JobSeeker payment, which the coronavirus supplement effectively doubled. You can see our research on social security and low income jobs here.

New research by ANU’s Centre for Social Research showed that the government’s boost to JobSeeker through the coronavirus supplement and JobKeeper has spared 2.2 million Australians from poverty. Without such interventions up to 15 per cent of the population – or 3.8 million – would be struggling in poverty. 

And Anglicare’s rental affordability snapshot, released this week, has shown the temporary JobSeeker boost is the only thing keeping a roof over people’s heads. The snapshot found just 1.5 per cent of Australian rentals were affordable for people on the JobSeeker payment even with the supplement. 

But now the government is moving to cut the coronavirus supplement by $300. 

Reducing the supplement will create economic stress and insecurity for 2.2 million households, by the government’s own estimates. It will also trigger a cut in household spending and jeopardise social cohesion and the nation’s economic recovery.

With so many Australians facing job insecurity during this pandemic, maintaining the $550 supplement is a lifeline for individuals, it is providing trade for small business, delivering spending to hard hit communities, particularly in regional areas, and it is helping many businesses stay open. 

It is not too late for us to convince our political leaders that the full coronavirus supplement must be maintained. 

“It is not too late for us to convince our political leaders that the full coronavirus supplement must be maintained.”

Indeed, instead of cutting the payment, there is a strong argument for the government to extend JobSeeker eligibility to include temporary migrant workers, especially people seeking asylum, who have lost jobs in industries shutdown due to COVID and who don’t have a safety net or superannuation to draw down on. 

As a sector, we must work harder than ever to ensure the October budget includes enough funding to maintain the $550 coronavirus supplement for the duration of the economic recession caused by the pandemic, or until the base rate has been reviewed and increased above the poverty line. 

Now is the critical window of opportunity to convince the government, influential MPs and those who hold the balance of power in the Senate. 

I would urge agencies to put their support behind ACOSS’s Raise the Rate for Good 

campaign, as we have done at the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. But also to do everything in their power to make known the impact this cut to the supplement will have on people. To make it known to the wider public and their leaders. 

Now more than ever people understand how quickly circumstances can change, how quickly it can get tough and how a fair and just society does benefit all Australians. We know that for children growing up in poverty there are lifelong impacts. To cut this payment would be a false economy. Moreover, why should any child in Australia have to go to bed hungry?

Now is not the time to cut the supplement. Now is the time to #RaisetheRate for good.

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