Survey results published this week (24 June), have shown people receiving increased income support payments are concerned about when those supplement payments end. 94% of respondents said the removal of the Coronavirus Supplement would have a significant or extreme impact on their ability to cover costs.
The survey from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) asked 955 people receiving JobSeeker payments, as well as Youth Allowance and other payments with the supplement, about what that hass meant for their financial situation. 93% of people said they could now afford fresh fruit and vegetables, while 83% said they were eating more regularly, with a staggering 74% saying they were skipping meals prior to the supplement.
Locally, ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) CEO Emma Campbell says while there is no comparable survey data for just the ACT alone, the organisation’s understanding is that the supplement has allowed Canberrans to more easily afford housing, food, energy, telecommunications and medical costs. She said in May this year there were almost 15,000 people in the ACT receiving JobSeeker and Youth Allowance payments, an increase of around 5,000 since the pandemic began.
“We know that before COVID-19, there were around 30,000 people (8.6%) living below the poverty line in Canberra,” she said. “Our tracking of the cost of living for low-income households in the ACT has highlighted the growing cost of living pressures in recent years as prices of essential goods and services, including housing and energy, have increased significantly while income support had remained at the same level in real terms for over 25 years.”
Dr Campbell referenced Anglicare’s rental affordability snapshot for this year, which found even with the supplement only 2.5% of private rentals were affordable for single JobSeeker recipients, and ACTCOSS’ food security report from last year, which found over 25,000 people in the ACT spent more than 30% of their income on food.
“We are concerned about impacts that will hit when the Coronavirus Supplement and other measures expire later in the year,” she said, including the impact of winter bills in September and the impact on residential tenants who have accrued rental arrears during the eviction moratorium.
The ACOSS survey responses also indicated more people were now able to afford essential medicine and health treatments, pay bills and rent or move to safer accommodation.
The Federal Government’s Coronavirus Supplement provides an additional $550 a fortnight for those on eligible payments, effectively doubling the rate of the JobSeeker payment (previously called Newstart).
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is expected to make an announcement on the JobSeeker payment rate in the ‘mini-budget’ update in July, with reports the Government is considering an increase.