Poverty in Australia: Jobseeker boost, Covid payments sent poverty level plunging

Despite making surprising progress during the pandemic, more than three million Australians are living in poverty, a new study claims.

The study, completed by the Australian Council of Social Services and the University of New South Wales, has found one in eight Australians, or 13.4 per cent of Australians, live below the poverty line – despite that number falling sharply during the pandemic due to increased social security payments.

The harrowing figure, reported in the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, becomes worse when it looks at only children, with an average of one in six, or 16.6 per cent, living in poverty in the 2019-20 financial year.

While that figure is lower than the beginning of the pandemic – when government lockdowns led poverty to soar to 14.6 per cent nationwide – it is substantially higher than the 12 per cent rate recorded in the June quarter of 2020 – a 17-year low.

The report said the government Covid payments lifted 646,000 people out of poverty, or 2.6 per cent of the population.

It said the $750 Economic Support Payment and the $275 coronavirus Supplement payment allowed singles on Jobseeker to go from $134 below the poverty line to $146 above it, and sole parents with one child from $67 below the poverty line to $228 above it for single parents.

However, the coronavirus supplement payment was scrapped in March 2021, and replaced with a $25-per-week ongoing increase in the JobSeeker payment.

With more people relying on the lowest income support payments to get by after the pandemic than before, the researchers previously concluded the number of people living below the poverty line was likely to once again rise higher than before Covid-19 hit.

The poverty line was calculated at $489 per week for single adults and $1027 per week for a couple with two children, or half the median income after tax.

In April 2021, 1.95 million Australians were on income support that had previously attracted the coronavirus supplement payment, a rise from around 1.4 million in March 2020.

Carla Treloar, director of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW, said the report highlights “unacceptable” levels of poverty in the country.

“Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet we have one in eight people and one in six children living below the poverty line,” Ms Treloar said.

ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said the numbers were a “source of great shame.”

“We can and must do better,” she said.

However, Dr Goldie said the report had highlighted a clear route to bring Australians out of poverty.

“Increasing Jobseeker to at least $73 per day is a crucial first step,” Dr Goldie said.

“Almost doubling the Jobseeker rate pulled 646,000 people out of poverty in 2020,” she said.

“That’s a huge advance in a relatively short period of time.”

NCA NewsWire contacted the offices of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth for comment.

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