Welfare Waiting Period Could Increase Poverty For Migrants
20 April 2018 at 11:04 am
Community groups have expressed vehement opposition to proposed legislation which would force migrants to wait longer to receive welfare payments, warning it would lead to increased child and family poverty.
The Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants Bill seeks to increase newly arrived resident’s waiting period (NARWP) from 104 weeks to 156 weeks for certain social security payments – including Newstart, Youth Allowance and the Family Tax Benefit.
But at a Senate Inquiry hearing on Tuesday, representatives from a number of community groups warned the bill could exacerbate poverty in the migrant community.
Professor Shelley Mallett, the general manager of Brotherhood of St Laurence’s (BSL) research and policy centre, told the inquiry the proposed measures adversely affected children.
“We believe [this bill] stands to potentially increase child and family poverty,” Mallett said.
“Of the total $1.3 billion saving the bill forecasts, the largest component – $898 million – are family related benefits. It’s expected that around 50,000 families will lose income, with 110,000 children impacted by the loss of family tax benefits.
“The introduction of a three-year waiting period – in theory, but in reality it could be up to six years – for new permanent residents to become eligible for parenting payment, family tax benefit and paid parental leave will leave low-income families in hardship.”
Mallett said the legislation would “create an underclass of migrants”.
“As we already know, migrants are overrepresented in the poverty statistics as well as the homelessness statistics, and we feel great concern that the proposed bill will further compound that issue,” she said.
“We can see the intended consequences of the bill, but we wish to highlight the unintended consequences of the bill: child poverty and delaying access to necessary payments that will allow people to maximise their opportunities to get into employment.
“We see that there are potentially intergenerational impacts of this bill that need to be considered.”
Hutch Hussein, BSL’s senior manager of refugees, immigration and multiculturalism, added that women’s vulnerability to violence and exploitation would be exacerbated as a consequence of the bill.
“Migrant women, we know from statistics, are at risk of exploitation, including slavery and forced marriage, because of their limited networks and access to support,” Hussein said.
“We believe that the proposed changes will expose migrant women to greater risk of exploitation and violence by limiting their access to financial assistance.”
Leanne Ho, from the National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN), said her organisation opposed the bill because they believe it was based on flawed assumptions – that newly arrived migrants needed income support because they chose not to work and that removing income support would encourage self-sufficiency.
She said NSSRN particularly opposed the introduction of a waiting period for special benefit, as it was “the payment of last resort for people in financial hardship”.
“The exception to the waiting period, where there is a substantial change in circumstances beyond a person’s control, will not capture the experience of many migrants, particularly skilled migrants, who came with a legitimate expectation of work but became unemployed,” Ho said.
“We don’t have exact figures, but our member centres have widely reported that it’s become much more difficult to access special benefit and prove the substantial change in circumstances.”
Ho said if income support was not available for a longer period, NSSRN were very concerned migrants and their families would either fall into poverty or fall prey to exploitation.
“Exploitation of migrant workers is well documented where they will accept any substandard work conditions in order to survive. Extending the waiting period will only exacerbate this vulnerability,” she said.
“Any costs saved from extending the waiting period may well end up being costs spent in dealing with the fallout from the destitution.”
At an earlier Senate hearing in March, Coalition Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the government believed skilled migrants would still be able to support themselves through work or other resources.
“Plenty of people have come to this country and not got a cent in terms of support and today are some of our most wealthy in Australia,” Fierravanti-Wells said.
The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee is due to report on the bill by 4 May 2018.