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JobKeeper is no Lifeline: leading mental health service must join calls for COVID supplement to return
The constant calls from industry, and now a mental health support service, for JobKeeper are misdirected and fail to understand what we need in the face of uncertainty and rolling lockdowns.
The Antipoverty Centre is calling on the Lifeline board to publicly support the return of at least the full COVID supplement for income support recipients in the wake of comments by John Brogden pushing for the reintroduction of JobKeeper.
Today on ABC Radio National he said:
“As this drags on, and particularly if it continues to drag on… we need to go back to the JobKeeper system. It’s simple, people understand how it works and it provides an income and that helps to reduce the level of crisis that they are feeling.”
It is irresponsible for the leading provider of crisis support services to call for yet another exclusionary payment that does nothing to support millions of people in lockdown who rely on poverty-level social security to survive. Like JobKeeper, the new disaster payments do nothing for those who don’t have paid work, leaving them and their families under even greater strain.
The link between financial hardship, unemployment and poverty is clear. Last year showed that providing adequate income support works to keep the community safe. We must #PayPeopleToStayHome.
The Antipoverty Centre’s Kristin O’Connell and Jay Coonan have co-signed a letter to the Lifeline board asking for their support in the call for a return of at least the full COVID supplement of $550 per fortnight. The full text of the letter is below. Along with Lifeline, we ask those across the community and social services sector to join us.
Subject: Concerns about Lifeline Chair's comments on RN Breakfast
To Lifeline board members,
I am writing to you, as a person who survives on JobSeeker while trying to manage suicidal depression, in response to John Brogden’s comments on RN Breakfast on 20 August 2021, where he called for reinstatement of the JobKeeper program following a record number of calls to Lifeline’s suicide service. This letter is supported by the Antipoverty Centre and will be published by them as they seek support from other community organisations.
At the start of March this year, I checked myself into hospital during an extreme suicidal episode. I knew that the last of the COVID Supplement, which kept me and so many others afloat during the first wave, was being ripped away in a few weeks. Alone, isolated, and without any hope that things would get better for me, and many people I cared about, I made an attempt on my life. I share my story with you in the hope that it will help you reconsider your focus on JobKeeper, and instead start promoting income support measures that we know work to keep people in similar positions as me alive.
Calling for assistance that is limited to one section of the community (i.e. Jobkeeper) is not an adequate or appropriate response from an organisation that purports to support people at risk of taking their life. A record number of calls to Lifeline is the predictable result of only offering support to those with more secure employment, and in favoured industries, in the face of COVID lockdowns and economic crises that are devastating for us all.
Even the government admits that JobKeeper is not an adequate response to the rolling lockdowns that have plagued the country in recent months.
The Treasurer has said that the direct payments currently in place are more appropriate: “The payments we are rolling out, they are faster than what occurred under JobKeeper”, with the new payment system casting a “wider net” to include casual workers. But this manifestly does not go far enough, and would be much stronger with appropriate income support – not the reinstatement of a payment to employers.
The only response that will keep people safe – both from COVID and to ease the pressure on those who are at risk of suicidal ideation – is to reinstate the full COVID supplement that was in place for income support recipients last year and make it available to all people, regardless of industry, payment type, visa status or any other circumstance. This direct payment of $550 per fortnight was so important in helping people pay their bills, buy medication and put food on the table, as highlighted by ACOSS.
As you would be aware, last year during Victoria’s long lockdown there was a decrease in suicides according to the Victorian state coroner. The increase in financial support for people in lockdown and the decrease in suicides cannot be a coincidence.
A 2021 report found that people used the payment for, “…meeting basic needs, as well as other strategic expenditures to improve their household’s long-term financial security” and, “The Supplement (sic) and suspension of mutual obligations increased respondents’ engagement in labour market and other economic activities”, as well as “… many forms of unpaid productive work, including care work and community work”. Caring for ourselves and each other increases resilience and protects our mental wellbeing.
There is a direct link between financial hardship and worse mental health outcomes. People who need income support are trapped in circumstances beyond their control, forced to subsist on a poverty payment that hinders their chance of employment. The effects of feeling little control over our lives, with no chance of finding a job, are amplified during health and economic crises.
Fourteen per cent of all suicides in 2019 were associated with employment, unemployment or economic circumstances. In a 2018 article for Front Psychiatry, “the poorest one-fifth of Australians, 1 in 4 people have psychological distress at a high/very high level; this compares to 1 in 20 people in the richest one-fifth of Australians.”
This was before we were confronted with a global pandemic forcing us to be isolated from our loved ones, exposed to a life-threatening virus, and without realistic prospects of gaining financial security through a job. People must be given support to afford medication, food and keep a roof over their head, particularly as all rental amnesties have ended.
I am asking Lifeline to express its concern and support for the most vulnerable in the community by joining the call for a return of the full COVID supplement, without restriction. Boosted and more accessible income support is proven to help people through lockdowns and does not discriminate against people based on their employment status. We do not deserve a death sentence just because there are no jobs for us. Particularly when the government is now issuing debts for JobKeeper recipients due to the complex nature of Centrelink’s reporting system.
JobKeeper does not help the people who are most in need of support, and you, a prominent mental health organisation, must do better and recognise this.
I strongly encourage you to contact me on to discuss this in more detail. We feel it is crucial to stop divisive calls for JobKeeper to be reinstated; instead, community leaders such as yourselves must ensure no one is forgotten as unpredictable outbreaks and rolling lockdowns continue across the country.
Co-signed by Kristin O’Connell and Jay Coonan from the Antipoverty Centre.