“I have $ 50 a week to live”: Social assistance recipients grapple with cost of living as lockdowns continue | Well-being

Social assistance recipients under stay-at-home orders and excluded from additional Covid support – in total more than 80% of those receiving Centrelink payments of working age – say they are struggling the additional costs of living in confinement.

As part of an effort to provide additional income support to the more than 800,000 currently excluded people, the Australian Council for Social Services (Acoss) interviewed social assistance recipients currently living on stay-at-home orders. in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

Of the 216 respondents, almost all respondents (96%) said they were struggling with the cost of living and 41.5% said they were at risk of becoming homeless due to the high cost. housing.

Last year, everyone on job seekers, students, and parental benefits received a coronavirus supplement – starting at $ 550 per fortnight.

“There was that sense of oneness through it all, ‘We’re all in the same boat,’” Donna Bennett, 50, a mature student recipient, said of the situation. last year.

“I wish I could have this lightness in me [now]. “

Now only those who can prove they’ve lost at least eight hours of work can access a “disaster payout” of $ 200 per week.

Government data shows that 152,000 people receiving income support payments accessed the disaster payment, meaning that about 800,000 people or 84% did not receive additional assistance, a said the Acoss.

He argues this is unfair given that welfare recipients cannot get paid work due to the lockdowns, which are now in their 12th week in hardest-hit Sydney.

Data also shows that more men receive payment in the event of a Covid disaster (19% in greater Sydney) than women (12% in the same region), with men making up two-thirds of payout recipients. disaster.

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Bennett, who lives in Warrandyte on the northeastern fringe of Melbourne, receives $ 512.50 per fortnight from Austudy while earning a community service diploma.

She lives alone in a house that she rents from a friend, which means that she is not entitled to rent assistance allowances.

And her kids have moved out, so she doesn’t receive family tax benefits, even though she recently received a $ 400 debt for family payments she received last year. He received his tax return.

“I have $ 50 a week to live, pay my bills and do everything,” Bennett said, after factoring in the costs of housing. “It makes things tight.”

The government’s Covid-specific income support payments this year have been directly focused on supplementing income for people who have lost their jobs.

But some welfare recipients excluded from support said in the survey they face higher costs as a result of staying home, such as increased electricity bills and plugging. taxis to avoid public transport and grocery deliveries.

Some interviewees told the Acoss survey that they were already homeless or surfing on the couch at a friend’s house, while others spoke of moving in a trailer to save money or to receive eviction notices for arrears despite moratoriums on evictions.

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Bennett spends most of his time during the lockdown at a local operations store and a Rotary-run emergency relief center on Main Street in Warrandyte.

“I try to spend my weekends there because it saves me electricity, energy and water and stuff here,” she said.

Although she has volunteered at the pantry for the past two years, this year she has also started to depend on it for herself.

“I don’t take a lot,” she said. “I try to have enough of it just for my dinner and then I take it home every day.”

A former entertainment and hospitality worker, Bennett decided to retrain after her children moved out, inspired by the work of the Victorian government’s Royal Commission on Family Violence.

She said she had unsuccessfully applied for around 50 jobs since June and now feels in limbo.

“Now I think, am I just settling for an old job?” ” she said. “My job search widens, widens and widens. It seems that there are a lot of people applying for jobs.

However, what complicated it was the fact that it was nearly impossible to find work during a lockdown.

Acoss chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the OECD recently called on the Australian government to end jobseekers’ allowances, which are paid at a base rate of $ 44 per day.

“It is unreasonable to leave behind the people who need support the most,” she said.

Goldie said the government should allow all welfare recipients access to disaster payments, including those on temporary visas, before increasing payments above the threshold of poverty.

“It’s that awful conscious feeling that everything you do costs money,” Bennett said. “That’s why I spend a lot of time at the op-shop. That extra $ 200, that anxiety would go away.

“There is this weight that I carry with me now. “

A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said this month the government had “provided $ 32 billion in emergency aid payments” and contributed to the largest increase in unemployment since 1986.

“Payments in the event of a Covid-19 disaster are paid based on hours lost as a result of blockages,” the spokesperson said. “Income support recipients are not excluded and are entitled to $ 200 per week when they lose their job. “

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