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Homelessness crisis: The problem with JobSeeker payments

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Pictured: Martin Place tent city was a symbol of Australia's homelessness problem, Centrelink sign. Images: Getty
Changing the JobSeeker payment could topple thousands into homelessness. Images: Getty

The Australian government has doubled the level of the JobSeeker payment to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, but when it reduces, or even returns to its previous level, it spells trouble for thousands of Australians.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the JobSeeker payment will not remain at its current level beyond the promised six months, and for Women’s Community Shelters CEO Annabelle Daniel, this raises a terrifying question.

“What we’re seeing at the moment through our network is that there are women who have had that payment doubled, and because they can access some of their superannuation this financial year and next year, they’re locking themselves into rentals which in around six months time are going to be very difficult to afford,” Daniel said.

The temporary increase to JobSeeker, and the ability for struggling Australians to access up to $20,000 of their superannuation early, isn’t solving Australia’s homelessness problem, she said.

“It’s just kicked the homelessness crisis for women down the road”.

Prior to Covid-19, two-in-three Australians accessing homelessness services remained homeless after receiving support, while 21,000 people were unable to access crisis accommodation.

Australia currently has a deficit of around 500,000 social and affordable housing dwellings, and the problem is especially dire for women and families attempting to escape domestic violence situations.

“Women escaping domestic violence need permanent housing to enable them to ensure a safe environment for themselves and their families,” Domestic Violence NSW spokesperson Renata Field said.

“It is great to see the NSW Government extending rental subsidies during Covid-19 for women who have experienced domestic violence. However many women and their children will still find private rental accommodation is unaffordable or not available which means, with such limited social housing, they will end up either homeless or having to return to a violent home.”

Daniel said single older women are the fastest growing group of homeless Australians, often due to paltry superannuation balances and unaffordable housing. Women retire with around 31 per cent less in their savings than men.

And Daniel’s concerned that the government’s early access to super plan will compound that issue for generations to come.

Modelling performed by Industry Super Australia found a 20-year-old woman who took the full $20,000 from their super could lose as much as $120,000 from their balance by retirement due to foregone interest earnings.

What’s the solution?

There are two things that need to be done: increase the base rate of JobSeeker and increase the amount of social and affordable housing.

“What’s been really heartening is that there has been a quick response during the pandemic,” Daniel said.

“There has been that action to increase the base rate of JobSeeker and to support women both into temporary accommodation if they need it and then to provide housing pathways. But the challenge will be sustaining that for the long term.”

She said people need long-term housing security, and more affordably housing is key.

“We need to fix the deficit of 500,000 social and affordable housing homes. We also need widespread education and community involvement in solving domestic and family violence which is one of the primary drivers of women’s homelessness.

“We solve that by working from community to community on local responses and community education.”

Women’s Community Shelters has a tripartite funding model which sees it receive funding from government, philanthropy and community fundraising and donation. Daniel said the community portion of it ensures that each local community is heavily involved in owning and supporting the shelter.

“We’ve been really heartened by each community’s response to wanting to support women who are homeless or leaving domestic violence,” Daniel said.

“Domestic and family violence is a whole-of-society problem, and it needs a whole-of-society solution. It can’t be only the government’s job to solve it, because that won’t work.”

She said she’s seen communities work to support the shelters and to educate around domestic violence, so that ultimately it becomes a question of preventing, rather than addressing violence.

“If we did those two things [addressing domestic violence and increasing affordable housing], we’d achieve the Australia that we’d like to live in.”

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