December 4, 2020

‘Another kick in the guts’: further Covid welfare cut worries struggling Australians

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/11/another-kick-in-the-guts-further-covid-welfare-cut-worries-struggling-australians

When Scott Morrison was asked if he was worried reducing the coronavirus supplement would lead to an increase in poverty, he was quick to emphasise the change was not a cut.

“This is why we are extending it,” he told reporters of the fortnightly supplement accessed by about two million people.

From 1 January, the supplement will reduce by $100 to $150 a fortnight, taking the jobseeker payment to $715 for a single person.

The supplement – added to jobseeker, student and parenting payments – has progressively tapered down from $550 a fortnight when it began in March.

Guardian Australia has reported extensively on the impact of the supplement during the pandemic, which briefly lifted people out of poverty.

On Tuesday, we spoke to three people receiving the supplement about what they felt was another “cut” to their incomes.

Angela Cadwallen, 55, jobseeker payment

When Guardian Australia spoke to Angela Cadwallen last month, she was worried she would have to move out of the Western Sydney home she shares with her son and his four-year-old daughter.

After her son, 30, lost his job due to the pandemic, both adults now rely on jobseeker payment. The fear was that if he couldn’t get back into the workforce soon, and with a reduction to welfare payments looming, they’d no longer be able to afford the rent.

A move is more likely now. “If [the prime minister] had have said [that the $250 rate would remain next year], then I would be like, ‘OK, we can string it out until then,” Cadwallen says. “And hopefully something happens in the meantime. But if neither of us get a job, then we’re going to be in pretty dire straits.

“It’s surprising when you are counting everything how much difference a few extra dollars a week can make to your life. It means either putting petrol in the car or not putting petrol in the car. Things like that. It could mean that the internet bill doesn’t get paid or the water bill doesn’t get paid.

“I’m dreading when our next electricity bill comes. I don’t know how we’re going to pay that. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to pay it.”

Cadwallen says her son has started selling his prized Warhammer collection, which he has owned since he was 12, while she is also looking at selling some vintage genie bottles that might fetch a few hundred dollars each on eBay.

Asked if she would further regulate her spending in the lead up the reduction from 1 January, Cadwallen notes “there’s not really a lot more that I can do”.

“Like it’s to the bones,” she says. “And it’s at the point now where I’m having to dip into my savings to get us through from one payment to the next payment.

“Today is Tuesday, and I think I’ve got $300 to last until next Monday. But out of that, I’ll have to do a full food shop. And I have to put petrol in the car. And any other little bits and pieces that we need in between time.

“I haven’t been in this position in so many years. And it’s really scary. I’m not liking it at all. And it’s very depressing.”

Emma Lenz, 39, parenting payment single

Emma Lenz had just received her first payment at the new rate when she spoke to Guardian Australia last month. Since then, the reduction in the supplement – from $550 a fortnight to $250 – has meant things have been much more difficult.

“While we had the $550 I had money for the entire fortnight and now I run out in four days,” she says. “I have to go 10 days with absolutely no cash with me and two kids.”

And so of the “cut” to the supplement – she reckons to call it an extension is “spin” – Lenz says: “It’s already been really hard this fortnight and last fortnight, so it’s another kick in the guts.”

Lenz, who lives in Warwick, Queensland, with her daughter, 10, and son, seven, has been short on shifts at the hotel where she works since the pandemic hit. She also receives parenting payment single, which will drop to about $900 a fortnight from next year.

With her payments reduced, the single mum hopes to find a second casual job that will accomodate her schedule: she can only work during school hours or every second week when her kids are away.

Like Cadwallen, she was at a loss when asked how her spending might change to accommodate for the cut to her income.

“I’ve done everything,” she says. “I don’t have any subscriptions, don’t buy cigarettes, don’t buy alcohol. And the next thing I’ll cut now is petrol. So we won’t be going on trips. We went to Goondiwindi on the weekend and went kayaking. Those things will get cut back now.”

The other big change will be the family’s diet. “I live on cereal for dinner. Every night I make one adult meal and split it between the two kids,” she says.

“And then I eat the leftovers and the cereal. At the moment with the supplement I’ve been able to have a proper meal myself. I’ll just live on Sultana Bran.”

Deborah Jacobs



‘Gradually stocking up on on extra things’: Deborah Jacobs has already started to prepare herself to get back to super tight budgeting. Photograph: Kelly Barnes/The Guardian

Deborah Jacobs, 63, jobseeker payment

Guardian Australia was the first to tell Deborah Jacobs on Monday that the prime minister had announced new changes to her income.

“Well, it’s better than it stopping on the 31st of December and, you know, ‘Happy new year’,” the Adelaide woman says. “In that respect, it’s better that it is continuing on. And at least it allows us to keep lobbying to raise the rate.”

Jacobs says she’d already been making adjustments before the change was announced.

“I’d started to prepare myself to get back to super tight budgeting, because I didn’t know what was going to happen at the end of the year,” she says. “[I was] just gradually stocking up on on extra things, non-perishables and stuff like that, cleaning fluids and things that can cost a bit more.”

When she last spoke to Guardian Australia, Jacobs explained how she lived with various health conditions and that doctors had given her an iron infusion during one hospital visit. When her payments were at the old Newstart rate, she’d gotten “very good at all different types of instant noodles”.

Now, with the supplement set to fall again, Jacobs expects she will also start to limit her red meat consumption.

“If I can manage to get meat at all, it’d have to be things like chicken or fish or something like that,” she says.