When the Morrison Government announced the Coronavirus supplement on top of the JobSeeker payment, I was happy that I no longer had to choose between rent or food. But I was lucky compared to my mum, who is on the Disability Support Pension, who missed out.
I have been on Newstart, now JobSeeker, more times than I have been employed. I was excited after applying for over 500 jobs to get a three month full-time contract working in a factory. Before the pandemic, I was living in student accommodation. The Newstart payment did not even cover my rent. I was constantly stressed over money.
According to the most recent estimates, there are thirteen people on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance for every job that is advertised. Statistically speaking, there are not enough jobs to go around. It is hard to tell what the economy will look like after COVID-19, especially what jobs will be available in the months and years after the pandemic.
Talk of “snap back” for JobSeeker and JobKeeper causes me and others in my position great anxiety. How am I going to afford getting to and from my monthly appointments with my job services provider? What about paying for my anti-depressants that I need? Or my infrequent psychologist appointments which are crucial? What about paying for rent, food and electricity? These are some of the questions I run through my head whenever the government talks about a snapback process after the pandemic ends.
Last year, Monash University did a study about the mental health of Newstart and Disability Support Pension recipients. The 700,000 Australians on the payments were more likely to be hospitalised and more often reported to have “mental and behavioural problems” than wage earners. This new rate of JobSeeker is an improvement for people’s lives. People like myself do not have to choose between having food on the table or our mental health. But the new rate needs to be expanded to other payments.
Living on income support was never easy. We must remember those who died when the Robodebt was in place. More than 2,030 people took their own lives when they received a notice that they owed money to the government. Roughly one-fifth of those who died were aged under 35. I was one of 400,000 who received a Robodebt - I was asked to pay $25,000 back. This triggered my anxiety. How would I find the money? I would be bankrupt.
If there is a “snapback” in terms of income support payments, millions of Australians will be in poverty. The cycle of poor mental health will continue and people will choose what basic necessities are the most important.
Please don’t decrease our payments, our lives depend on it.
Sinead Simpkins is from the Parramatta Branch.