Increasing distress among welfare recipients promised only a poverty trap as voting opens
Social security is all but absent from election coverage despite spiralling living costs hitting those on Centrelink payments hardest.
Today academics from Melbourne University’s Faculty of Business and Economics published new research on the nature of poverty in Australia and called for urgent action to address persistent poverty. The report shows the income support system is creating a poverty trap by forcing people to survive in deep poverty.
It follows a similar call from mental health researchers who recently argued “the first and most decisive action the government could take” to address the alarming increase in mental distress is to return to 2020 welfare payment levels, when they were lifted to the poverty line.
Meanwhile, the Coalition and Labor’s utter neglect of people who rely on Centrelink payments to survive is leaving income support recipients increasingly distressed as election day nears.
Included below: comments from Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Kristin O’Connell, highlights from a new report on the extent of poverty in Australia, key statistics and information about crisis support services.
Welfare recipients are reporting to the Antipoverty Centre that the cascading effect of cost pressures is that the cheapest brands of staples like canned goods and frozen vegetables are disappearing, and in some cases these products are not available at all.
From last week’s Anglicare report showing only five rentals were affordable for a single person on JobSeeker to this new research, it is undeniable that welfare payments are unliveable and lifting them is urgent.
Highlights from the new Melbourne University research:
13% of the population are persistently poor
Those in deep poverty are up to 5 times more likely to be persistently poor than the average person
Persistent poverty is more prevalent among women, single-parent families, older people, First Nations people, disabled people, those with lower educational qualifications and people living in more disadvantaged regions
Quotes attributable to Antipoverty Centre spokesperson and DSP recipient Kristin O’Connell
This research shows the lifelong devastation being inflicted on people in the welfare system, but there is not a single surprise in it. We already knew that successive governments have created a poverty trap, punishing people for unemployment.
We cannot understand why the major parties are being allowed to ignore the severity and extent of poverty they have chosen to create during this election campaign.
Morrison and Albanese cannot claim to be ignorant of the severe deprivation experienced by millions of people as a result of abhorrently low Centrelink payments. Their refusal to help is sheer cruelty.
Everything is headed in the wrong direction for us. Those of us on income support are increasingly under strain as dramatic living cost increases eat away at the meagre payments we rely on. It is hurting us financially, emotionally, mentally and physically.
People are contacting the Antipoverty Centre seeking help we cannot offer, expressing thoughts of suicide and a desire to self-harm because they no longer have any hope left that things can improve.
We are seeing increasing numbers of people out of paid work, and employed people who still depend on JobSeeker, talk about their fears post election.
We cannot do the government’s job for it. Politicians must reverse their cold-hearted attitude to people who need support.
The evidence is clear – the deeper in poverty we are, the longer we spend in poverty, the less likely it is we will ever escape.
We are again urging minor parties and independents to make welfare payments above the Henderson poverty line a non-negotiable in the event of a hung parliament. As rare as hung parliaments are, it feels like you are our last and only hope.
Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Background and key statistics
Click here to download a more in-depth background document containing additional statistics and links to all sources for data included in this section.
The Antipoverty Centre has used DSS data to show that the number of people who have relied on JobSeeker (formerly Newstart) for more than a year has increased by 41% to 786,139 people (83.84% of all people on JobSeeker) compared to 557,395 before the pandemic.
DSS data shows there 935,000 people are on unemployment payments (JobSeeker and Youth Allowance Other). An additional 1.6 million are on the Disability Support Pension, Carers Payment, Parenting payment or other working age payment and there are 2.5 million age pensioners.
According to the ABS, households that receive a government payment recorded the largest rise in living costs in the March 2022 quarter since the beginning of the series in 2007.
A November 2021 Ipsos poll found 65–74% support for JobSeeker payments to be above the poverty line in Liberal-held marginal electorates. The electorates polled were Boothby, Swan, Longman, Blair and Dobell. Between 49% and 60% of voters in the five seats said they would consider changing their vote to a party that would lift the rate above $69 a day.
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:
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.