Burke must protect welfare recipients affected by WA fires
70,000 people on Centrelink payments in WA are being subjected to unsafe heat and bushfire risk under threat of payment cuts
Today we have confirmed with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations that there is not currently any plan in place to suspend “mutual” obligations in areas of Western Australia affected by fires and severe heatwaves. This is inconsistent with the response to recent fires in Queensland and New South Wales, where suspensions are in place.1
Included below: key statistics; comments from the Antipoverty Centre, Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and Sweltering Cities; crisis line contact information.
People on the lowest incomes experience hospitalisation and death at disproportionate rates. We do not have the financial resources to protect ourselves from extreme temperatures due to the abhorrently low rate of Centrelink payments and strict criteria that exclude people who need income support support from accessing it. We are less likely to own our home, and therefore less likely to live in climate safe housing.
32% of heatwave-related deaths occurred in the lowest quintile socio-economic areas and 89% of the deceased had a recorded disability, and disabled people are significantly over represented among people with “mutu” obligations requirement such .2 38% of disabled people are living on less than $ 383 a week.3 People with chronic and mental health conditions are more susceptible to extreme heat and during heatwaves people with cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, and neurological, mental and behavioural disorders have an increased risk of death.4
The Antipoverty Centre is part of a campaign led by Sweltering Cities5 to recognise heatwaves as climate disasters and works with the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union to advocate for abolishing “mutual” obligations.
Quotes attributable to Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Kristin O’Connell
It is shameful that people on Centrelink payments who are affected by bushfires can have their meagre income cut off for failing to complete pointless, punitive “mutual” obligations activities in the midst of a climate disaster.
Our analysis of government data suggests there are at least 70,000 people are on JobSeeker in the Central West, Lower West and South West regions in Western Australia, which the Bureau of Meteorology have declared as severe heatwave zones.6
People in poverty are more likely to suffer illness and death during heatwaves, and those of us on income support are less likely to have climate safe housing or the resources to stay cool. Forcing people into the heat is life threatening.
We call on the government to urgently suspend all penalties for people in these areas as they did for people in Queensland and New South Wales earlier this month.
Quotes attributable to Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union officer Jeremy Poxon
It's absolute madness that we're having to pressure the Department to suspend Mutual Obligations for all participants affected by bushfires. It's actually frightening what we're seeing in Northern Perth: as it stands, people can't count on the Department to immediately suspend obligations when there's a bushfire emergency in their suburb.
It's clear that the lives and safety of welfare recipients are not being taken seriously by this government; in fact, when natural disaster hits, we are barely an afterthought.
Quotes attributable to Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon
Forcing people to put their health second during heatwaves will lead to more illness and tragic deaths. It's time to stop all Centrelink penalties for people impacted by severe or extreme heatwaves before the hot summer puts even more people at risk.
Heatwaves are our deadliest environmental disaster and every government agency and department can contribute to reducing the impact on our community.
Media contact: 0403 429 414 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Crisis support and counselling services
If you need support you can seek guidance, counselling or crisis help from the below organisations or talk to someone you trust.
Suicide Call Back Service – general: 1300 659 467
SANE Australia – general: 1800 187 263
13YARN – for First Nations people: 13 92 76
National Counselling and Referral Service – for disabled people: 1800 421 468
Headspace – for young people: 1800 650 890
QLife – fo LGBTQIA+ people: 1800 184 527
Full Stop – for people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault: 1800 385 578
Embrace Mental Health – multilingual service: embracementalhealth.org.au
MensLine – for men: 1300 789 978
Brother to Brother – for First Nations men: 1800 435 799
About the Antipoverty Centre
The Antipoverty Centre was established in May 2021 by people living on Centrelink payments to counter problems with academics, think tanks and others in the political class making harmful decisions on behalf of people they purport to represent.
We have deep expertise in poverty, disadvantage and unemployment, because we live it. Our goal is to help ensure the voices and rights of people living in poverty are at the centre of social policy development and discourse. We believe there should be no decision made about us without us.
The Antipoverty Centre is not aligned with any political party and does not accept funding that places political constraints on our work.