Community service workers warn of dire consequences of planned cuts to JobSeeker

The impact of increased income support during COVID-19 has been viewed as overwhelmingly positive in a new survey of community service workers.
UNSW Media | UNSW Newsroom

More than 80 per cent of community service workers surveyed about the coronavirus supplement have said the increased rates of income support were having a positive impact on the lives of the people they helped. Many workers expressed serious concerns about cuts to the payments.

The survey was completed by 744 community sector staff, including 264 organisational leaders (CEOs or senior managers). They worked in a range of services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services, homelessness, youth, migrant, disability, ageing, legal, financial counselling, health and education services. 

The research was conducted in July by Dr Natasha Cortis and Dr Megan Blaxland from the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney in collaboration with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the network of Councils of Social Service of Australia (COSS Network), supported by Community Sector Banking.

The results are being released today on the Raise the Rate for Good Supporters’ National Day of Action with people on JobSeeker and other income support payments contacting their local MPs and the Prime Minister on social media and over the phone.

Responses to the survey of community sector workers included:

  • “Extra payments for COVID-19 meant people could pay for accommodation and eat!” (Team leader, Housing and homelessness service)
  • “The doubled JobSeeker payment has meant that, for the first time in years, very low-income single mothers have been able to buy new winter clothes, replace broken whitegoods, repair cars etc.” (Project officer, Child, youth and family service)
  • “We work with rough sleepers who have not as yet been negatively affected by COVID-19. We are more likely to see an increase in rough sleeping if the additional funds for JobSeeker and JobKeeper cease and people from the private market lose their accommodation.” (Practitioner, housing and homelessness service)
  • “People seeking asylum are unable to access the Australian social safety net or JobKeeper. As a group they are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have been experiencing homelessness and mass unemployment.” (CEO, Migrant and multicultural service)
  • “I think the government needs to raise the rate of Newstart permanently – I'm sure it's been a huge buffer for households.” (Project officer, Housing and Homelessness service)
  • “I would like Government to retain Jobseeker (including full COVID supplement) so as to reduce pressure on community sector services (e.g. foodbanks, emergency relief).” (Project officer, Legal, advocacy or peak body) 

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service – the peak body for the community sector – and alumna of UNSW Law said:

“During this crisis, many people have reached out to community service charities for support, including food relief, mental health, domestic violence and financial counselling services. In particular, temporary visa holders, who have been excluded from income support, have been relying on what charities have been able to provide them in what is a really desperate situation.

“Community service workers are reporting that people who have had access to the increased JobSeeker payment have been able to cover the basics, for many, for the first time in a long time.

“We’ve heard from many people who used to be on the old, low rate of Newstart that the increase to JobSeeker and other income support has meant they’ve finally been able to access the essentials, like prescription glasses, a fridge and warm jumpers for their children to get through winter.

“As we handle the COVID-19 health crisis and confront the economic crisis, more people than ever before will struggle to find paid work. There is currently only one job vacancy available for every 12 people on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.

“New figures from the Department of Social Service show 2.3 million people are currently receiving the coronavirus supplement. They’re facing a $300 a fortnight cut to their incomes on 25 September. Troublingly, more than 1.1 million children are living in households that stand to have their incomes cut on 25 September.

“With Parliament meeting now for the last two sitting weeks before September 25, we’re calling on the Government to put in place a permanent, adequate increase to the JobSeeker payment and other income support so that people do not suffer these huge cuts to their incomes next month.

“We’re also calling on the Government to urgently extend income support to people on temporary visas, including people seeking asylum and international students, with this survey further confirming the desperate situation these people are being left to endure,” Dr Goldie said.

Read the survey.

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