No food, no medications, no home: the grim reality of living on JobSeeker prompts calls for boost to income support payments
The Federal Government should urgently increase the JobSeeker payment, says Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic) following release of a report highlighting an epidemic of mental illness and deprivation among Australia’s welfare recipients.
Released at the start of Anti-Poverty Week, the survey of financial counselling clients on JobSeeker again confirmed it was simply impossible for many people to make ends meet on the current rates of payments.
FCVic Executive Officer Dr Sandy Ross said the report found people could not afford basic living expenses and were forced to make excruciating choices such as going hungry, being homeless or living in inappropriate housing, skipping medications and living in isolation.
“Setting JobSeeker and other social security payments below the poverty line means Australians are left without a social safety net,” Dr Ross said. “This not only leaves thousands of Australians of all ages at risk of destitution and homelessness, it is also fuelling an epidemic of mental illness – mainly anxiety and depression. The impacts are not only on people struggling to survive on inadequate incomes, they affect many thousands of others who will be stranded on these payments if their luck turns, and who live in daily fear of this.”
Dr Ross said financial counsellors see people and families every day struggling to survive on JobSeeker, and the situation is growing more desperate with increasing cost-of-living pressures.
“A society without adequate social security is a society that is sending a message to people in poverty that they do not matter, and people close to poverty that they will not matter,” he said. “This harms children and families, older people and younger people both physically and mentally. The human costs, and direct service costs in health, mental health and other social services are immense.
“It is both a false economy and an inhuman economy to argue against raising the rate on cost grounds,” Dr Ross said.
With the stroke of a pen, a government prepared to fix the social safety net could reduce or eliminate many of these other costs.
Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic) is the peak professional body for financial counsellors in Victoria. Financial counsellors provide information, support and advocacy to people in financial difficulty.
Dr Sandy Ross, Executive Officer
Financial Counselling Victoria
0417 557 420 | Email: [email protected]
Liz Stary, Senior Financial Counsellor
Women’s Legal Service Victoria
0450 680 737 | Email: [email protected]
Carmel Stafford, Financial Counsellor
Uniting Vic Tas
0435 268 289 | Email: [email protected]
Background (available for citing)
FCVic has presented evidence in its submissions to the Senate about the positive impacts that the temporarily increased income support payments during the pandemic (the ‘Coronavirus Supplement’) had made to people’s lives, enabling them to bring themselves out of debt, and establish a pathway towards employment. In its submissions, FCVic drew on its report ‘The Experience of (Not) Living on Newstart’, based on the data and stories from a survey completed between February and May 2019, in which 111 Victorians who were clients of financial counsellors shared their stories about trying to live on the Newstart allowance.
More recently, between March and June 2022, 90 people around Australia who were clients of financial counsellors were surveyed about trying to live on the JobSeeker Payment. Survey respondents also provided information about their weekly income and expenditure, showing that it is simply impossible for many people to make ends meet on the current rate of JobSeeker. Click here to access the report, ‘Short-changed: The ongoing costs of an inadequate JobSeeker Payment’.
In both surveys, Jobseeker/Newstart recipients were asked to write down what they missed out on or couldn’t afford. The dominant theme amongst responses in the 2022 survey was that people receiving these payments could not afford basic living expenses and were excluded from participating fully in society. The compromises people were forced to make included going hungry, being homeless or living in inappropriate housing, skipping medication, and missing out on social interactions.
Many of the people surveyed reported personal circumstances which contributed to increased vulnerability or disadvantage. Among the most common were mental health difficulties, which were experienced by 75 people (83%), and social isolation, experienced by 65 people (72%). This is an increase in both categories from the previous survey conducted in 2019, in which 68% of respondents reported experiencing mental health issues and social isolation respectively.
Of the 2022 survey respondents:
- 63% identified as women
- 53% were over the age of 45 years
- 55% of survey respondents had been receiving JobSeeker Payment for longer than 2 years (and 21% for more than 5 years)
- 33% of respondents had applied for the Disability Support Pension (DSP), but their claims had been declined or they were waiting (up to 12 months) for a response from Services Australia.