By Sushma Veera
Sydney, Oct 5: Poverty in Australia is beginning to take the spotlight, no thanks to looming lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new research by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and UNSW Sydney Poverty and Inequality Partnership has found that the most enduring economic damage has been felt in lower income suburbs such as the outer north-west and south-east Melbourne, west and south-west Sydney, northern Adelaide, far North Queensland and regions between Brisbane and the New South Wales border.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the research painted a grim picture for people and communities who have been left without inadequate support from the government this year.
“Unless we improve support now, income and social divides will fester across our major cities and outer urban areas.
“In 2020, we showed we could respond to adversity with cooperation, by providing economic security to the vast majority.
“Last year, average incomes actually rose, despite the deepest recession in almost a century.”
The report stated that between September 2019 and last October, people on income support became eligible for the coronavirus supplement.
The additional payment was great, given the dramatic rise in people hit by unemployment last year.
The report also showed, following the second wave, by this September, the overall number of people on unemployment support was higher by 27 than before the pandemic began.
The COVID-19 income support lifted the unemployed out of poverty, especially due to the $750 per week JobKeeper payment and $275 per week coronavirus supplement which together reached 44 per cent of the workforce, and meant that the number of people in poverty fell from three million (11.5 per cent) before the pandemic to 2.6 million (9.9 per cent) last June.
However, both JobKeeper and the Coronavirus supplement were abolished this April, and the current COVID-19 disaster payment ($750 per week) is now restricted to people who lost employment in a current lockdown, putting those whose jobs and incomes were most deeply impacted by the Delta variant on a treacherous road to financial recovery.
The Government has also announced its intention to abolish Disaster Payments once overall vaccination rates reaches the 80 per cent, even if further lockdowns occur or employment does not recover.
“In 2021, the disaster payments left gaping holes. Those who lost employment or paid hours a week before or after a lockdown have received nothing beyond the existing grossly inadequate income support payments, such as the $45 a day Jobseeker payment.”
UNSW Sydney’s Director of the Social Policy Research Centre, Professor Carla Treloar said the research showed that the greatest overall increase in people relying on the lowest income support payments from Sept 2019 to this year were in economically disadvantaged communities.
“These communities already faced high unemployment, as well as a myriad of other challenges.
“Let’s give them the chance to recover from the pandemic, rather than push them further into poverty.”
ACOSS also recommends that the government urgently fix the social security, social housing arrangements and provide employment help to protect the marginalised from financial distress and homelessness.
Among their solutions included is to extend the COVID-19 disaster payments, and not abolish them, to introduce a flexible national employment support scheme and to extend income support to all without adequate paid work, including temporary visa holders.
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