The Government is assessing the current COVID-19 Disaster Payment settings amid growing complaints it leaves Australians on JobSeeker and other income support behind.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Government is “conscious of this issue”, during a press conference on Monday, and said it will continue to “examine all settings”.
As it stands, Australians who have lost more than 20 hours of work are eligible for $600 in weekly COVID-19 Disaster Payments, while those who have lost between eight and 20 hours in one week are eligible for $375.
People who have lost fewer than eight hours aren’t eligible for the payments, along with anyone who receives Government income support payments like JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.
However, advocates including the Australian Unemployed Workers Union and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) have noted that the maximum weekly JobSeeker payment is $310.40.
That means a person who worked but supplemented their income with JobSeeker payments may now be receiving a significantly smaller income.
It's a discrepancy that ACOSS has warned could tip many people receiving Centrelink payments into homelessness.
Responding to questioning, Frydenberg said the COVID-19 Disaster Payments are more effective than the JobKeeper program as it scoops up all casual workers – regardless of whether they had been with the business for at least 12 months.
Noting that JobSeeker increases to a maximum weekly payment of $310.40 when workers lose income, he said the Government is looking at the issue.
“We never know what is around the corner with this pandemic. There are new challenges each and every day. That is why we plan for those contingencies,” he said.
“Our policies are never set and forget. You never know what is around the corner, you need to be flexible, you need to respond to changing circumstances.
“We continue to assess all our payments, both business and income support, and determine the right payments for the right circumstances.”
“The premature ending of JobKeeper in March was a big mistake. We knew then that the pandemic wasn’t over, and that the failed vaccine rollout meant lockdowns weren’t either,” Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said.
“[JobKeeper] worked by keeping many workers tied to their places of employment, while also offering businesses a lifeline.”
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday said the state’s health crisis must be “matched by economic support”, and flagged an announcement on financial support in the coming days to coincide with decisions about restrictions.
“It is important for us to convey what life looks like on July 31 in the one go so everybody knows what life looks like at that time,” she said.
“In relation to financial support, that will depend on decisions the Government takes in the next few days on what life will look like beyond July 31.”