Submission on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, November 2020 

RE: Need for a permanent, adequate increase to income support.

18th November 2020

Committee Secretary
Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
community.affairs.sen@aph.gov.au

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020

Australia Together and Every Child have prepared this joint submission focussing on two key elements that are important when considering the future of the Coronavirus Supplement:

  • The need for a permanent safety net to underpin economic and social renewal post COVID
  • The impact of inadequate income support on children’s wellbeing

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. That the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 (The Bill) be amended to ensure that people have a permanent, adequate increased rate of income support. The level of support must be adequate to provide an ongoing safety net to people who need it and that children are supported to thrive.
  2. In addition, we urge the Committee to advocate that all Cabinet Submissions include a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) as to each proposal’s ability to maintain and improve the standard of living for all children and young people in Australia.

RATIONALE

COVID has clearly demonstrated that change can happen at any time, to anyone, in any way. It doesn’t discriminate and it is usually very sudden and unexpected. 

Australia has had significant success in responding to the COVID crisis. This success can be attributed primarily to evidence-based decision-making by governments; a world-leading health and community support system; a comprehensive economic stimulus, including increased income support, and social policies that have reduced housing stress and provided much needed supports to children, families and communities.

The income support system is fundamental to this support. As businesses closed and economies faltered, the income support system assisted those without work and ensured that money continued to flow into communities and into the economy. 

An adequate level of income support is a foundation for wellbeing. Adequate income means you have capacity to look for a job, you can afford to put a roof over your head and children can thrive.

The findings of To Have and to Have Not (ARACY) indicate that the low level of Newstart potentially had a major negative impact on children who are completely without agency when it comes to whether or not their parents/carers work.

The evidence indicates that it is highly likely to be detrimental for the children and young people of Australia if social security payments revert to their former low levels, or any lower level than is currently the case. And conversely, in the words of the National Children’s Commissioner “the wellbeing of children is best protected when those around them have their wellbeing protected too”i

ARACY’s work, and much other evidence, has shown that the needs of children (for example for safe, affordable housing) are not met under Newstart levels of social security. Equally, there is much evidence that the COVID Supplements have allowed families, who find themselves on hard times, to have a standard of living that every Australian should be able to expect. This includes families being able to escape domestic violence, mothers not having to miss meals due to lack of money, some upgrading study equipment to allow them to reskill, and others being able to afford basics such as cold and flu tablets. Given that this Bill will, from 1 April 2021, effectively remove these supplements and with them, the opportunity for families to afford such basics, it cannot be said to be compliant with international human rights covenants, nor protecting the human rights of children and young people in Australia.

It is critical that there is permanence and certainty in the provision of income support. Without knowing income levels for the future, people are unable to plan, unable to commit to long term expenses including things like childcare, housing, training and skills development. Further, anxiety and mental health issues generally increase.

We know that before COVID, 1 in 6 children were living in poverty. COVID has exacerbated this situation with poverty, hardship and unemployment being compounded as we recover from COVID.

Raising the level of income support and employment payments was a stimulus strategy that worked. It lifted Australian families out of poverty and it ensured Australia was able to weather the storm.

A foundational safety net will be critical as we look to economic and social recovery post-COVID and seek to rebuild and renew and prepare for the future.

Taking what we have learnt from COVID we can now rebuild and renew our systems for the changes of the future. To ensure that people have the confidence and trust that the systems will be there when they need it and will be enough to help them get through future crises, be it a pandemic, redundancy, illness, family break up or natural disaster.

A permanent adequate level of income support is foundational to a strong, growing and fair economy and communities and the provision of strong social safety net.

“We need a permanent allowance that allows them to have a dignified life. Why should unemployed people not have the same certainty and predictability, instead living three months to three months? And get a decent, adequate allowance that allows them to live lives of dignity” - Jennifer Westacott, Business Council of Australia ii

THE FACTS

Who will be impacted?
  • By December 2020 there will be 2.5 million adults reliant on the Coronavirus Supplement who are caring for at least 1.1 million children iii
  • The cut to Coronavirus Supplement after 31 December takes the single base rate of JobSeeker to be $100 below the poverty line.
  • The proposed reduction of the supplement from 1 January will result in an additional 330,000 people living below the poverty line. iv
The labour market
  • More than 7 people in Stream C (JobActive Support) competing for each Level 5 job v
  • 1 job seeker for every 15 job vacancies in August 2020 vi
Effects on Children

ARACY research in 2019vii articulated the range of impacts of low levels of income support payments on children’s outcomes. It includes:

  • Children in jobless households are
    o more than 4 times as likely to be homeless
    o Nearly twice as likely to be bullied or face social exclusion
    o Almost 2.5 times more likely to be missing out on learning at home
  • Children living below the poverty line are
    o More than 1.7 times more likely to face food insecurity
    o More than twice as likely to lack good relationships with friends

Conclusion

All major legislative and regulatory changes by government ought to be assessed in respect of their impact on the wellbeing of children and young people. We urge the Committee to advocate that all Cabinet Submissions include a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) as to each proposal’s ability to maintain and improve the standard of living for all children and young people in Australia.

We also urge the committee to adopt our recommendation and take decisive action that ensures the wellbeing of all people – especially children and young people who need to be in a household with adequate income in order to thrive. Australia has the capacity to ensure that all children live in households free of poverty – we need the political will to make this happen.

Read the full Joint Submission


Joint CVS Submission

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Every Child