Welfare payments slammed

As the government extols the virtues of its Centrelink IT overhaul – with no reference to its flawed and damaged robo-debt scheme – a new report slams the adequacy of welfare payments.

But first the ‘good’ news.

Indian digital services company Infosys has fought off IBM and Accenture to secure a lucrative contract with Services Australia to transform the complex 30-year-old payments calculation engine used to work out the eligibility of Centrelink recipients.

Infosys senior vice-president Andrew Groth says that the deal will help to create a “flexible welfare service delivery system for the future”.

“A robust, responsive and agile welfare entitlements system is crucial for all Australians, particularly those in need,” he says. “Infosys is tremendously proud to support Services Australia on such a transformational project that underpins the Australian community and broader economy.”

Meanwhile, a new research report says that Centrelink is driving people into homelessness.

Dangerously low payments are driving people into poverty, and putting them at risk of homelessness, according to the Homeward Bound report, authored by solicitor Sophie Trevitt and undertaken by the National Society Security Rights Network and Canberra Community Law.

“Homeward Bound examines the experiences of hundreds of people struggling to survive on dangerously low Centrelink payments and facing the threat of homelessness,” says Ms Trevitt.

“People on the Newstart Allowance are struggling to live on less than $40 a day. They are entirely cut off from the private rental market, and with extremely long wait times for public housing, many were forced to sleep in their cars, in the living rooms of friends and families, in parks, caravans and refuges.”

She has called on the government to increase Newstart payments by $75 a week, index future increases to inflation and review payments every six months. Perhaps surprisingly, one quarter of Newstart recipients are aged over 55.

Kasy Chambers, chief executive of Anglicare Australia, told The New Daily that Australians who relied on Newstart had been effectively locked out of the private rental market.

Anglicare’s recent rental affordability snapshot found that of 69,000 rental listings in Australia, only two would be affordable to Newstart recipients. “That would have included a room in a share house too,” Ms Chambers said.

Homeward Bound found:

  • People relying on Centrelink are struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
  • The commonwealth government should immediately raise the Newstart Allowance, Family Tax Benefit and Rental Assistance.
  • There is insufficient affordable, social housing … across the country to ensure all members of our community have somewhere safe, secure and decent to live.

Ms Trevitt said the robo-debt scheme was only one part of a system of often punitive, difficult to navigate and inadequate social security measures that drive vulnerable people further into poverty, put their tenancies at risk, and contribute to rising rates of homelessness.

The report is the first stage of a national research initiative mapping the experiences of people on Centrelink.

Should Rental Assistance be reviewed urgently? Has it kept pace with the realities of rental costs?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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