Centrelink payments must rise to avoid a looming poverty crisis

By Joe Montero

An Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) survey has  shown that 96 percent of those on Centrelink payments say they are struggling harder under the lockdowns. Most have had no government assistance this year. As the gap between income and the cost of housing continues to widen, a worrying 41.5 percent say they are at risk of homelessness.

Support has been denied to 800,000 Australians and their families. This forces them to live well below the official poverty line. This is what it costs to maintain a most basic standard of living. And the stay  at home order, has ruled out alternative options.

ACOSS, the national peak body of welfare and community organisations has called for raising the minimum payment to $65 a day. This is $469 per week. Enough to lift people out of crisis.

The Living Incomes For Everyone (LIFE) campaign calls for a $600 per week minimum for all those on Centrelink payments and the underemployed. LIFE is associated with a range of unions, welfare, and community organisations.

The unemployed are left with around $40 a day to buy food, pay the bills, and all other of life’s needs.

Photo by Jason South: Rick Savickas is one of those who has been left high and dry

There is $200 a week disaster payment. Given that only those who can prove a loss of at least 8 hours work in the week can apply, most on Centrelink payments are left out.

It may be that roadmaps to get out of the present lockdown are underway. This does not mean that the battle against the pandemic has been won. It will continue. A good pointer is the shift in government policy from elimination to containment. Pressure to protect the bottom line of business brings the risk of premature easing and a greater risk of new outbreaks.

Expect new lockdowns, as the virus finds new outlets and continues to mutate.

Beside the demand for justice for those at risk, rising poverty poses a health risk to the whole community. Those forced to cut back on nutrition or not having a decent roof over their heads are at greater risk of infection and becoming spreaders. They are more likely to have difficulty in accessing medical support.

Ongoing failure to address the lack of insufficient income for a sizeable part of the population will make the situation worse. If this doesn’t come about, Australia will have a new crisis on its doorstep. Failure will impose serious costs on Australia’s economy and social fabric.

Can we really afford to continue down this road?

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