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'You can’t pay half a bill': Temporary welfare boost not enough for low-income renters

30 April 2020 at 8:00 am
Luke Michael
Rental Affordability Snapshot reveals a chronic shortage of affordable rentals

Luke Michael | 30 April 2020 at 8:00 am


'You can’t pay half a bill': Temporary welfare boost not enough for low-income renters
30 April 2020 at 8:00 am

Rental Affordability Snapshot reveals a chronic shortage of affordable rentals

Less than 2 per cent of Australian rentals are affordable for people on the JobSeeker Payment, even with the coronavirus supplement, new research reveals.

Anglicare’s annual Rental Affordability Snapshot, released on Thursday, surveyed almost 70,000 rental listings across Australia and found that a chronic shortage of affordable rentals remained despite recent welfare increases.

Only 1,040 rentals (1.5 per cent) were affordable for a person on the JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart), even though it has doubled for six months because of COVID-19.

Without the increase, just nine rentals out of 69,997 properties would be affordable for jobseekers. 

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, said the COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that a permanent fix is needed for the nation’s income support system.

“We can never go back to the old, low rate of Newstart at $40 a day and we must fix the inadequacy of Rent Assistance, which is less than $10 a day,” Goldie said.

“We’re calling on the government to stimulate recovery through a public infrastructure program to build social housing, which would create thousands of jobs and reduce homelessness.”

Jenny*, who has been on the JobSeeker payment for three years, was able to find an affordable room in a sharehouse in Sydney, but said she is always on the brink financially.

“Someone told me that an affordable rental is a third of your income. That’s laughable. At least half of what I get goes to rent. That includes rent assistance,” Jenny said.

The old JobSeeker rate left Jenny with just over $15 a day to cover all her other costs such as food, bills and medicine.

“You can’t pay half a bill. You can’t pay your rent late. That’s why I’m always afraid of getting a big bill or a parking ticket. It can end up costing me for months,” Jenny said.

Age and disability pensioners left behind

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said welfare increases have given people badly needed relief, but lamented that age and disability pensioners missed out on the supplement.

The snapshot found just 1 per cent of rentals (743 out of 69,997) were affordable for people on the Age Pension, while 0.5 per cent of rentals (326 out of 69,997) were affordable for a person on the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

“They are at the very bottom of the market, [and] instead of looking after them in the midst of a health crisis, we are leaving them to the mercy of the market,” Chambers said.

“We must raise the rate of these payments for good. If they are halved in six months – and if pensioners and people with disability are left out – renters will be pushed even deeper into poverty and homelessness.”

Kevin*, who is on the DSP in south-west Western Australia, has been constantly moving between different properties and said he just wants to find a place to settle down.

One place he stayed in recently was so small, he “couldn’t swing a cat in it”.

“I just want a home. I haven’t had one in a long time,” Kevin said. 

While the median rental in his area is $330 a week, Kevin can only afford to spend $159.                          

This means Kevin would have to pay 72 per cent of his weekly income to afford a median rental.

The rental snapshot found just one property out of 685 in south-west WA was affordable for Kevin – who as a DSP recipient is ineligible for the coronavirus supplement.

 *Not their real names.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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