Pandemic-boosted income support payments halved the number of welfare recipients living on less than $7 a day, a new survey says.
An Anglicare report, released on Tuesday, surveyed about 600 welfare recipients about their experiences living on welfare payments before and after the government introduced the coronavirus supplement in April.
The survey found the supplement – which began at $550 a fortnight but has since been reduced to $250 – led to a large reduction in the number of welfare recipients left with less than $50 a week, or $7 a day, after they paid their housing costs.
Some 41% of respondents said they had been living on $7 a day in March, but this fell to only 18% from July to November when the survey was conducted.
It comes as the government seeks to legislate to reduce the supplement by a further $100 from January, leaving a single jobseeker with a fortnightly base income of $715.
That would bring the jobseeker payment closer to the old rate of $565 a fortnight, or $40 a day, which the Anglicare found left the majority of respondents skipping meals.
The survey found that under the old rate in March, 72% of respondents skipped meals every week, and most skipped an average of three or four meals a week.
It also found 59% of respondents lived on less than $100 a week after housing costs.
Respondents included jobseekers and those on youth allowance, as well as disability and parenting payment recipients, who receive higher payments to match what is considered to be a higher cost of living.
The survey found young people were most likely to skip meals to save money than older welfare recipients, probably because youth allowance was even lower than the jobseeker rate.
The Anglicare executive director, Kasy Chambers, said it “should be a scandal” that so many Australians living on welfare benefits appeared to be skipping meals.
She said it was further evidence that the government needed to legislate a permanent increase to the jobseeker payment.
The government is yet to commit to such an increase, and under its current plan the jobseeker payment would revert to the old rate after March.
Australia’s welfare payments are notably ungenerous compared with the unemployment benefits available in most other OECD nations, although the government notes other nations’ systems are time-limited or based on insurance contributions.
Still, the Anglicare report is consistent with past research.
An Australian Council of Social Service survey in September found 80% of respondents would skip meals and reduce their intake of fresh fruit and vegetables following the initial reduction to the coronavirus supplement.
Meanwhile, analysis by the ANU academic Ben Phillips has estimated the $100 reduction from 1 January could throw as many as 330,000 people below the poverty line.
The Anglicare report also surveyed jobseekers about mutual obligations, which are now in full force across the country. It found 79% of respondents believed their mutual obligation activities were pointless, while only 11% felt they were helpful to finding paid work.
In addition, 85% of respondents disagreed when asked if they were getting the support they needed to find work.
Welfare recipients sent to a job agency are generally required to complete a set number of applications per month – currently up to eight – and to attend coaching sessions with their consultant. They can also be sent to other training programs or work-for-the dole activities.
Among those who were breached for failing to meet their mutual obligations, 62% said they were either not given an explanation for why their payments were temporarily stopped or they did not believe the reason given was fair.
Chambers said most survey respondents “actually want to do activities that matter and that lead them into work”.