JobSeeker not enough for low-income renters: Anglicare

Rental Affordability Snapshot shows dire situation for renters

By Stephen Cauchi

April 30 2020 

The coronavirus supplement should be made permanent even though such a measure won’t solve the nation’s “massive” lack of affordable rental properties, according to Anglicare Australia’s latest Rental Affordability Snapshot report.

The Federal Government’s move to double JobSeeker and increase other welfare payments was proof the “old rates simply aren’t liveable”, the report, which was released on 30 April, stated.

“It is now time to move quickly and give people on government incomes dignity and security by making these increases permanent. As our Snapshot shows, it won’t solve rental affordability. 

“But it will help meet the true cost of living pressures at a time when food prices are high, and staying at home means more spent on electricity and digital connectivity.”

JobSeeker eligibility should also be expanded to include people from overseas who cannot return to their home countries, it stated.

The coronavirus supplement of an additional $550 per fortnight is paid to all new and existing recipients of JobSeeker (formerly Newstart), youth allowance, and parenting payments for the six months between March and September.

The Rental Affordability Snapshot surveyed 69,997 rental listings across Australia on 21 March 2020. 

As in past years, the report found that virtually all rental properties forced low-income earners in Australia to spend more than 30 per cent of their household budget on rent. This is a breach of internationally accepted benchmarks, said Anglicare Australia. 

It found:

  • only 1.5 per cent of rental properties met the 30 per cent benchmark for those on the JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart). Without the increase the figure was close to zero per cent;
  • no rentals met the benchmark in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin or Canberra;
  • pensioners and those with a disability received no coronavirus increase to their payments. Consequently, just 1 per cent of rentals met the benchmark for those on an age pension and just 0.5 per cent of rentals met the benchmark for those on the disability support pension. 

The report found that if the supplement was made permanent, couples would benefit but others would not:

  • 11 per cent of couples with children where both parents are receiving JobSeeker would experience an increase in the number of affordable properties (up from one percent);
  • Couples where one parent is receiving minimum wage and the other the parenting payment (partnered) would have a 10 per cent increase in the number of rental properties they could afford;
  • Single people, including those with children, would see little improvement in affordability;
  • People on the disability support pension and the aged pension would experience no increase in affordability as they have received no increase in their payments.

“The dire lack of affordable rentals for people on the disability support pension, and for aged pensioners, must be urgently addressed,” said the report.

“Along with those who are reliant on carer payments, these are the groups most vulnerable to the coronavirus. It defies logic that they have not been included in the coronavirus supplement.”

Self-isolating in precarious rental situations is expensive, distressing, and exhausting, the report said. As well, older Australians and people with a disability typically have much higher medical, power and transport costs. 

“We must raise the rate of these payments for good. If they are halved in six months – and if pensioners and people with disability are left out – renters will be pushed even deeper into poverty and homelessness.” 

Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers said that “we must invest in affordable housing”.

“Our shortfall is massive. We need 500,000 new affordable rentals across Australia.

“Investing in housing would be the most powerful way to tackle the rental crisis and boost our economy. We’re calling on the government to end this shortfall and ensure everyone has a place to call home.” 

Ms Chambers said there had been “swift action” to mend raise government income payments in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This shows us what is needed, and what is possible. As we turn our eyes to softening the impact of this historic downturn, we must insist that every person has a home, and enough income to live with dignity.

“As governments plan how to stimulate the economy back to health
in the wake of the pandemic, investing in social housing as essential public infrastructure should be a priority.”

Anglicare Australia is the national peak body for Anglican welfare agencies.