Government temporarily doubles unemployment payments amid COVID-19 outbreak
Monday, 23rd March 2020 at 4:43 pm
The announcement has already caused long lines outside Centrelink and the government’s MyGov website to crash
The Morrison government’s decision to temporarily double the JobSeeker Payment – formerly known as Newstart – has been welcomed by welfare advocates, who say the boost needs to be made permanent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced a $550 fortnightly increase to unemployment payments for six months, taking the maximum base rate to $1115.70.
This coronavirus supplement will be paid to both new and existing recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.
Morrison said the boost was about enhancing the safety net for vulnerable Australians.
“The next few months are going to be a difficult journey but we all have a role to play to adapt to the changes we’re facing, to cushion the impact of what is happening and to pull together so we can bounce back when we get to the other side,” Morrison said.
The government also revealed that from 13 July, it will offer a second $750 stimulus payment for around five million welfare recipients, veterans and eligible concession cardholders who are not eligible for the $550 coronavirus supplement.
After these changes were announced, there was a surge in demand for welfare services.
People heading to Centrelink offices across the country on Monday faced long lines stretching over several blocks, while the government’s MyGov site crashed as thousands of people rushed to make claims online.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the average number of people trying to get on the MyGov website jumped from 6,000 to 55,000 on Monday.
Welfare advocates relieved by the boost
This temporary welfare boost followed a long-running campaign from the community sector to increase unemployment benefit payments – which hadn’t risen in real terms since 1994.
Now advocates will push to make the change permanent.
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said the boost would come as a huge relief to many struggling people.
“Whether people lose work due to coronavirus, bushfires, or simply because there are not enough jobs available at any time, we need a social safety net that works for all, at all times,” Goldie said.
“We need a permanent increase to give people certainty and we will continue to work with the government on securing the certainty that people will need, particularly at this deeply troubling time. We need to provide confidence to reduce anxiety and fear.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert added that it would be untenable for the government to return to the old rate after six months.
“An increase to the jobseeker payment must be long term and permanent. It is absolutely untenable to drop people back onto $40 a day once this crisis period has passed,” Siewert said.
But not all welfare recipients will be supported…
Goldie noted that Youth Allowance for students, Austudy, Abstudy and Apprentice payments will not be included in the six-month payment, and said ACOSS will work urgently with the government to correct this.
“We are also extremely worried about asylum seekers and others who have no access to income support right now and we will do everything we can to urge the government to do the right thing and make sure that everyone has access to social security,” she said.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) said in a statement that the Disability Support Pension needs to be included in the supplement.
This group is calling for the government to immediately suspend all mutual obligation requirements, debt recovery programs, and cashless welfare programs throughout the crisis.
The government has moved mutual obligation requirements online, but Siewert said this was still too difficult for recipients.
“Many people do not have the infrastructure to just ‘go online’,” she said.
“Not everyone has a smartphone, computer or home internet and with libraries and community centres closing down they will have to continue to attend face-to-face appointments.”
To deal with the increased demand for welfare services, the government has announced it will hire up to 5,000 new staff for Services Australia.