Morrison strips pandemic safety nets

The virus spread among younger people is high but many have no support to isolate to recover.

The failure of governments to plan for the COVID-19 Omicron variant and their “let-it-rip” approach has left vulnerable people, including myself, with less support than ever.

I am a university student and casual worker who, like millions of others across the country, has tested positive for COVID-19. Because I am a student, I am unable to work enough hours to get by, so receive the Youth Allowance payment of $265.20 a week. This is not enough to afford the extortionate rental prices in Sydney and so I work casually at a local leisure centre to supplement my payment. Because I am a casual worker, I have no job protection or sick leave.

After testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, I had to miss almost two weeks of work. I was dismayed to find there is no pandemic support available to those on income support. This means that for people on Youth Allowance, JobSeeker, the pension or disability support there is no additional support: there is no safety net.

One in four people on income support work to supplement their payments and a COVID-19 diagnosis means that these people have to go without pay for a significant period of time. We cannot even apply for the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

The only way to receive any support is if you can prove that you have less than your regular income support payment in your bank account: this can be as little as $530.

Income support payments are already well below the Henderson Poverty Line of about $82 a day and they are means tested. This means whoever has made the decision to exclude people on income support from these payments has chosen to leave the most vulnerable people choosing between meals and vital medical care.

Missing work for two weeks meant not having at least $400 for paying rent and buying groceries. I had to borrow from my family, an option many people do not have.

I also had to take out a student loan to avoid getting behind on bills. This will be added to my Higher Education Contribution Scheme debt, loading me up with more debt after I graduate.

The Australian Council of Social Services has its call on the federal government to extend vital pandemic payments to those on income support and low incomes.

Instead, Scott Morrison’s government is reducing the weekly payment from $750 to $450 for people who do 19 hours or less paid work per week. Those people with less than 8 hours of paid work per week now cannot access the payment.

We need the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to remain at $750 a week for all and to be extended to income support recipients. Youth Allowance, JobSeeker and other payments must also be raised to at least $600 a week to ensure people are not living in poverty. No one should have to work when sick and sick leave should be guaranteed for all workers.