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Up to 1.2 million of the poorest individuals and families with kids locked down but locked out of extra support

Anti-Poverty Week estimates there are 1.2 million individuals, families and children receiving the lowest social security payments locked down in NSW and Victoria. These include individuals and families receiving JobSeeker and Parenting Payments which are as low as $44 (JobSeeker) and $36 (Youth Allowance) per day.  Around 25% of them usually have earnings from part-time work and are likely to have lost this income[1]. In NSW this is approximately 550,000 people (355,000 adults and 195,000 children). We estimate 650,000 Victorians on these working age payments are now also in lockdown (420,000 adults and 230,000 children).

The Coronavirus Supplement was $550 a fortnight from March to September 2020.  It no longer exists, replaced by $50 per fortnight permanent increase from 1 April 2021, so they are doing this lockdown with $500 per fortnight less.  The Federal Government has also locked them out of the new COVID-19 Disaster payment.

 Many of these individuals and families are  struggling to pay rent. Commonwealth Rent Assistance hasn’t increased in real terms in more than 20 years and it only covers a quarter or a third of rent paid.  People relying on JobSeeker were paying $230 per week rent in March 2021 and only receiving ~$66 per week in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (median figures) – that is a $164 a week gap.  For a single parent with two children, the median rent paid in March 2021 was $305 per week, the median CRA received was ~$74 per week – a gap of $231 per week.[2]

Families with children reliant on these low payments will also be struggling with home schooling and online learning – perhaps not even able to afford the internet access; others will not have laptops or have multiple children sharing a single device. Experience of the extended Victorian lockdown captured by The Smith Family found some students reduced their daily lesson attendance and many students including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, struggled because they don’t have sufficient individualised learning support. Their recent report found that for families in Australia’s most disadvantaged communities were affected by a “a housing crisis affecting children’s ability to learn; some students struggling to reengage in their schooling; the ongoing negative impacts of the digital divide and compounding mental health issues.” [3]

We know that more than one in six Australian children are growing up in poverty.[4] The full Coronavirus Supplement halved poverty for the poorest families – those headed by single parents.  According to ANU research commissioned by BSL and SVA, poverty rates for these families reduced from 39 to 17% (the loss of all payments is expected to more than double these rates to 41%.) [5]

To treat all of Australia’s children fairly, we need to ensure every family has enough money to cover the basics and a secure roof over their head.

[1] At 30 April, of those who would have been eligible for CVS nationally, 25% had earnings from employment and likely to have lost that (22% is JobSeeker number, Parenting Payment Single is 30%). Source is Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 Additional Documents #73.

[2] DSS Demographic Data, March 2021.

[3] The Smith Family reports on experience of lockdown and Emerging from COVID-19: Insights Snapshot

[4] See Davidson, P., Bradbury, B., Hill, T. and Wong, M. (2020), Poverty in Australia 2020: Who is affected?  ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership Report No. 4, Sydney: ACOSS. See also Anti-Poverty Week Child Poverty Fast Fact, 20/9/20.

[5] Ben Phillips and Vivikth Narayanan, Financial Stress and Social Security Settings in Australia,  ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, April 2021