Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


Jobseeker Payment

8:48 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On 25 September the government cut the COVID supplement by $300 a fortnight, thereby dropping more than 1.8 million people on income support below the poverty line. This cut means that four in five people on JobSeeker will now be forced to skip meals and almost half of all JobSeeker recipients will be forced to ration their medication. Despite this, the government hasn't done any modelling or looked at the impacts that cutting the COVID supplement will have on people in our community.

I asked the community what the COVID supplement cut, during a recession, would mean to them. I've been overwhelmed with responses from people sharing their experiences of how this cut will impact them and their families. Because the government wouldn't even take the time to measure how the cuts to JobSeeker would impact our community, I thought it was important that I share what I've learned from people. These are people's experiences and concerns that they've raised with me. One person said: 'Because we have a mortgage and are not renting, we don't get rent assistance. We are both over 55 and probably won't work again. It's likely that we will lose our home. It means that I can't afford my prescriptions or specialist visits. I need dental work but can't afford that either. I have a back injury and an autoimmune disease, but I'm not considered disabled enough to qualify for the disability support pension.'

Another person said: 'I accessed my super so I could escape an abusive relationship. I used it to pay a bond and six months rent. I live alone, and the rent is $620 a fortnight. I also need to pay for electricity, my phone, gas and food. JobSeeker simply isn't enough for me to survive on.'

Another person said: 'After paying all my electricity bills, I have $40 a week for food and fuel. I have tried to find a job since I lost mine in March and have had no luck—not even grocery stores will accept me. Not working is not through lack of trying. There are now hundreds of other people going for the same positions. Because I'm a student at the same time, nobody will give me a second look, because it could impact my availability.' 'I am a 61-year-old woman with a bachelor degree in social sciences. I highly doubt I will re-enter the workforce again. Employment depends not only on someone's experience and qualifications but very much on discrimination by age, gender, marital status, ability or disability. I very often feel discriminated against and pushed into poverty for reasons that are beyond my control. I have no idea how I'm going to survive on JobSeeker now that it has been reduced by $300 a fortnight.' 'I will struggle to afford rent along with medications for my mental health. One of the bills I will struggle to pay is my private health insurance. I have it because I am trying to receive the best treatment for my mental ill health so I can work again. I'm terrified that I'll have to go back to food parcels and not be able to eat well to stay healthy. I need a higher rate of JobSeeker for a little bit longer while I receive my treatment so I will be able to work again.'

These are just some of the experiences of people who have shared their accounts with me. What this clearly shows is that, despite the government's buzzwords, we are not 'all in this together'. We are simply not—if the government hasn't even bothered to look at the impact of cutting the coronavirus supplement. I can already hear the government yelling, 'We didn't cut it.' Yes, you did. You cut the money that goes into someone's pocket. These experiences outline how it's going to impact people. Magnify those accounts that I've just outlined by the 1.8 million people who have suffered a $300 cut per fortnight while we're still in a pandemic situation, while we are in recession. People will lose their homes. They will be living in poverty. In and of itself, poverty is a barrier to employment. This isn't good enough. We need a permanent increase to JobSeeker.