'I will have $2 a week after bills': how jobseeker changes will affect people's lives

The Guardian revisits people who are unemployed for the first time due to Covid-19 to find out how changes to jobseeker, announced this week, will affect them

With the treasurer predicting on Thursday an unemployment rate of 9.25% by the end of the year, and 13 people on jobseeker for every job advertised, the Guardian spoke to newly unemployed people about how jobseeker changes will affect them.

On Tuesday the government announced that the supplement would be reduced by $300 to $250 a fortnight from 25 September.

The supplement of $550 was announced in March to cushion those “who will be feeling the first blows of the economic impact from the coronavirus”, Scott Morrison said.

It represented a shift by the government, which had until then refused calls from business and social service groups to lift the rate of welfare from $40 a day, an income level well below the poverty line.

The coronavirus supplement will be extended to 31 December but the cut to $250 a fortnight takes the effective rate to $59 a day, down from $80 a day. Existing and new income support recipients will continue to be paid the supplement.

As well as the cut in payment, mutual obligation requirements will be reintroduced. It’s not clear what will happen after 31 December although the government has flagged it may be extended, depending on the economic circumstances.

We asked three people who have lost their jobs since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March how they feel about the decreased payment, mutual obligation requirements and the uncertainty about the rate beyond 31 December.

Bianca Martin, 32, Toowoomba. Student and retail worker

Martin previously told the Guardian when the homewares store she worked in closed due to Covid-19: “As a casual I didn’t have any leave entitlements or anything.”

It’s really disappointing. I think this time has really proven how unliveable the previous wage was. It’s kind of offensive that they are cutting it back to a rate below the minimum wage.

Things aren’t returning to normal. If I was in Melbourne right now, I would be devastated. They’re in the middle of a lockdown and they are saying they will cut the coronavirus supplement when coronavirus is still an issue?

It’s going to be really tight. My bills come to $408 a week. I will be down to $410. I’ll be partying hard with the $2 left over.

I’ll be cutting it very fine. I guess it’s still more than what it was before the coronavirus supplement.

People have been able to live their lives for the past couple of months – to take it away so soon when there aren’t jobs going for people, it’s still going to be a struggle for employment. It’s so unfair.

I am going to take it as it comes right now. I spent a lot of time being stressed about money – it has been nice not feeling stressed about it. I am going to live in my own little world and try not to be so stressed about it. You never know what will happen by September.

Mutual obligations shouldn’t exist to begin with. I don’t think they’re an actual incentive for anybody seeking employment. It’s asking people to apply for work when they are not mentally ready for it. The mental toll that this pandemic has taken on people – we shouldn’t dismiss this. To force people back into the workforce when it’s not safe is irresponsible.

With this government, you can’t predict what they are thinking. They are going to do what they want to do. To expect this idea that everything is suddenly going to go back to normal, and that they thought that the initial rate was acceptable anyway, is just immoral. They are going to be pushing people so far into poverty. They keep saying they want to rebuild the economy, but how can you rebuild the economy when you are pushing people into poverty?

Lesya Aleksandrovna, 35, Melbourne. Newborns photographer

Aleksandrovna was working full time at a hospital photographing newborns when the pandemic arrived. At first there were more hygiene requirements, but later she was stood down.

That is bizarre honestly, it really is. We are not allowed to leave our houses, but we have to go do mutual obligation again?

In terms of cutting the payment, it is horrible as well. We are stuck at home at the moment, we are using more electricity, we are using more gas, our utilities are obviously going up. It is not our fault that we are stuck at home. This is just bad news all around.

They should have kept the full payment. They should look to keep that intact. People are not surviving on the current rate.

It’s not a way to live. I do understand it is meant to be a temporary payment. Unfortunately that payment has been the same since the 80s, the 90s, I’m not sure when. The cost of living has increased and these payments haven’t.

I am happy to look for a job, I don’t know what is going to happen in my current job, but I am not getting any calls back. Where am I going to find one? I’m not a tradie or a construction worker, where it seems are the only jobs these days.

I try not to watch the news these days because it is just too depressing. It is horrible. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I am going back to uni next week, just to get some different qualifications. The kind of qualifications that I have, they are not suitable in this situation. I am looking into more of an IT approach. I might have a job in the future.

I have enough qualifications: I have done psychology, I have done teaching, I have done nursing. We don’t know when it will end, we don’t know when there will be a vaccine, we don’t know if people will take the vaccination.

Anonymous, Melbourne

It’s gonna put me pretty close to the poverty line. But I am doing a course and I have maybe 18 months worth of savings to hopefully get me by while I finish that course and to help me find work. It’s a course in individual support – that will enable me to be an at-home carer and there is a lot of work going around there.

The new rate was just enough to pay rent and get food for me and my son, and pay bills. Whereas the new new rate will be just enough to pay rent, but leave me with about $20 a day. It won’t be too great. I will be leaning on my savings.

I’ve been looking into all avenues. I have been applying for hundreds of jobs – I apply flat out but there is just nothing at the moment.

I will take any job I can. But I guess we have to weigh up the pros and the cons. I don’t really want to work on the weekends because it’s a split family with me and my son. I usually only get to see him on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and he goes back on Monday. I don’t want to work on the days I have my son if the times don’t work out for that. He is only eight years old.


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

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