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Solving the housing crisis and lifting income support will alleviate crushing poverty

Anti-Poverty Week Executive Director Toni Wren says Anti-Poverty Week this year (17-23 October) coincides with lockdowns ending in NSW and Victoria – but for over 2.6million people living on income support payments below the poverty line, there will be no relief.

“Coming out of lockdown doesn’t open up their lives because they simply can’t afford to participate in what many of us take for granted.  It also brings real concern for an additional 2 million people who lost their jobs due to recent health-mandated lockdowns.  In NSW and ACT the COVID Disaster Payments have already stopped renewing automatically and two weeks after vaccination rates reach 80%, all recipients will move from $750 or $450 per week to around $320 a week (well below the poverty line of $457 a week).  They will then be forced to apply for JobSeeker payment if they don’t get their job back or find other work.

“Private rents are too high, and rising; income support payments and Commonwealth Rent Assistance are staggeringly inadequate; and there is a crisis in the availability of social and affordable housing.

That’s why Anti-Poverty Week this year is partnering with the Everybody’s Home and Raise the Rate For Good campaigns to launch a petition calling on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to ‘immediately increase JobSeeker and related income support to at least $67 per day, increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50%, and make an urgent investment in social housing.’

Spokesperson for the Raise the Rate For Good Campaign, ACOSS Social Security Program Director Charmaine Crowe says, “We hear from too many people who are unable to afford their housing costs, especially people in private rental, while struggling to survive on the $45/day JobSeeker, and the even lower $36/day Youth Allowance. It is critical that the Federal Government immediately lift these payments to at least $67 a day and other key social security payments, rent assistance and family payment, when Parliament resumes so the millions hit hard by the pandemic can cover the basics.”

Like Ashlie, who lost her full-time job in her late 50s, she quickly found that the low rate of income support did not allow her to live decently.

“I had to go without at least seven meals in order to afford a haircut. Seeing a medical specialist was now out of the question, let alone a dentist. I had a couple of friends who provided me with some food so I could pay my rent.”

In April 2020, Ashlie was unable to afford a private rental, and she became homeless. Since then, Ashlie has transitioned between emergency accommodation and staying with friends for short periods of time.

Kate Colvin, Everybody’s Home Campaign Manager says: “The Federal Government could fix most homelessness in Australia overnight if they made renting affordable. By increasing income support and building more social housing more Australian families could have the security of a safe affordable home, instead of being squeezed into homelessness by the pressure of skyrocketing rents.”

This Anti-Poverty Week (17-23 October) we are calling on our governments to unlock poverty for millions of Australians by raising income support above the poverty line and investing in social housing. 

How lack of affordable housing escalates poverty

People receiving income support can’t afford private rental

The poverty rate for people over 65 who rent privately is over 40% – four times the rate of 10% for people who own their home.

In June 2021 single people relying on JobSeeker Payment were paying $200 per week rent and only receiving $70 per week in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) (median figures) – that is a $130 a week gap. A single parent with two children paid median rent of $310 per week, with $74 per week (median) CRA– a gap of $236 per week.

The 2021 Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot reviewed 74,000 rental properties and found only three were affordable for someone receiving the JobSeeker Payment ($45/day) and none that were affordable for someone receiving Youth Allowance ($36/day)

Anglicare found that “after a year of volatility and shock, Australians are facing a rental market that has never been less affordable.”

The solution is social housing

Social housing investment is the most effective way to reduce homelessness, due to its affordable rents, security of tenure, and other supports that are not available to people in the private rental market.

Financially vulnerable people in social housing are less than half as likely to become homeless as a similar group renting privately. Over1/3 of new tenants in social housing were previously homeless.

But there is not enough social housing to support everyone who needs it

There is a national shortage of 433,000 homes for people in the lowest 20% of household incomes who are either homeless or in rental stress and at high risk of becoming homeless.

At least 116,000 Australians are homeless on any given night and 190,000 households are on waiting lists for social housing. (2016 Census)

How building more social housing will benefit our economy

The federal government could save almost 20,000 jobs a year if it builds more social housing. Constructing 30,000 social and affordable homes over the next 3 years would generate a steady pipeline of jobs for tradies that would otherwise run out of work. There would also be extra work for scaffolders, planners and surveyors.

Independent analysis by KPMG found that for every $1 invested, $1.3 went into the economy. This does not include the savings from crisis accommodation, health and other costs associated with homelessness and housing poverty.

The Nowhere to Go report by Equity Economics published in July 2021 found that if the Federal Government invested in 16,800 additional social housing units the $7.6 billion cost would be dwarfed by immediate economic benefits of $15.3 billion and the creation of 47,000 new jobs.

For more information and references read Anti-Poverty Week’s Fast Facts on Poverty and Housing

Visit the Petition to Treasurer Frydenberg