1 December 2020
For immediate release
Victorian financial counsellors are seeing red flags as the end of the Coronavirus Supplement looms for job seekers trying to survive.
A bill introduced into parliament last month could see coronavirus supplement payments for job seekers further slashed by $50 per week from the start of 2021 and axed completely from 31 March.
Financial counsellors are calling on the Government to act now to avoid pushing individuals and families into poverty if the supplement is further reduced or withdrawn.
Speaking at a Senate Committee hearing last week for the Inquiry into the extension of the supplement, Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic) Executive Officer Dr Sandy Ross said, “it’s pretty heartbreaking in our sector to see all the possibilities that have come from that supplement starting to be taken away again.”
Financial counsellors had identified the Federal Government’s initial coronavirus supplement – which ensured a crucial income boost of $550 per fortnight to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other welfare payments – as key to a reduction in demand for financial counselling assistance during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. The supplement had offered a much-needed lifeline for people to pay for their basic living essentials, bring themselves out of debt, and establish a pathway towards employment.
Financial Counsellor and Convenor of the FCVic Centrelink Working Group, Liz Stary, told the Committee, “We have conversations with people that come through our door about how they will manage when the supplement is reduced further, and we have seen a great deal of concern and growing anxiety and fear about how people will manage for the basics and keep a roof over their heads.”
Reflecting on the payment rates prior to the coronavirus supplement, Ms Stary warned the Senate Committee that the first thing people go without when payments are inadequate is food.
“We had people coming in that were saying that they skipped meals,” said Ms Stary. “They might have had two meals a day […] they would feed their children before they fed themselves.”
“What we found to be the positive of the coronavirus supplement when it was first introduced in March was that people were able to start paying for things that they couldn’t pay for before.” Ms Stary added, “to go without all those basics is just cruel.”
FCVic’s submission to the Committee called for a permanent increase to the Jobseeker rate at the level of the original Coronavirus Supplement. Dr Ross noted an increase in demand for financial counselling support since the supplement was cut back in September, and told the Committee that FCVic is “deeply concerned about [the] levels of hardship that are looming come late March.”
In the Senate Committee’s report handed down last week, Labor senators echoed concerns raised by FCVic that the bill is a ‘missed opportunity to lift people out of poverty, support the economy and protect local jobs.’ Along with Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, they called on the Government to provide a permanent increase to the base rate of social security payments for job seekers.
FCVic is the peak 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]