Nearly half a million workers in NSW have applied for and been granted the Covid-19 disaster payment, however an additional 400,000 unemployed or part-time workers across greater Sydney remain ineligible for the payment because they were already receiving some form of welfare.
Almost half of those barred from the disaster payment are now at risk of homelessness, according to the Australian Council of Social Services. Acoss has renewed calls to either expand the eligibility to anyone under lockdown, or at least raise all existing Centrelink payments to $600 so no one who has lost work is worse off.
In a report released on Friday, Acoss notes data from its survey of 88 people living in greater Sydney who are unable to access the disaster payments that found every respondent was now struggling with living costs under the lockdown.
The lockdown had forced 53% of respondents out of paid work who now had to rely on the base rate of jobseeker $315 with little prospect of gaining further work until the lockdown lifts. Meanwhile, 49% of respondents said they were at risk of homelessness as a result of lost work and inability to access the disaster payments.
Jade, a university student who lives in Sydney, worked in hospitality and received youth allowance payments before the lockdown. She now receives $320 dollars per week, $280 of which she spends on rent.
“This barely covers the cost of groceries. On top of that I have medical bills, phone bills, utility bills, car payments and so on…This is simply impossible,” Jade said.
Others surveyed who have been barred from the disaster payments reported being unable to afford new glasses.
“I can’t afford healthy food. I can’t afford a new winter coat or new warm winter pyjamas. I can’t afford to run my heater every evening. I wear a jumper to bed and I have three extra blankets on my bed so that I’m warm when I sleep,” Aeryn, a Sydney resident, said.
Cassandra Goldie, Acoss chief executive, said eligibility for the disaster payments was presenting “a public health issue” because “people can’t stay home in lockdown if they lose their home because they cannot afford to keep it”.
Goldie also wants to see Commonwealth rent assistance increase, and the reintroduction of targeted jobkeeper-style payments for industries particularly affected by lockdowns.