JobSeeker made them ‘feel human again’, now they fear going back to $40 a day

Paulene Hutton used to find ways for her family to conceal her financial pressures.

In Brisbane, the 53-year-old single mum of two was on the $40 a day Newstart grant, a sum welfare organisations believe holds poor Australians in poverty.

It was not enough to get by, even with her casual retail shifts.

“Sometimes late at night, I would actually sit there and cry because I really couldn’t work out how to stretch the money any further,” she told 7.30. “It was always robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

She would say it was nothing if her children heard her crying.

“Sometimes my older son would hear me, and I would just joke it off, that I was watching something sad on TV.”

But unexpectedly, her world opened up because of the pandemic. Newstart was called JobSeeker and, with the $550 coronavirus supplement, the allowance was doubled, bringing the allowance to $1,100 a fortnight. That has given her greater access to the essential necessities that most Australians can afford.

Ms. Hutton doesn’t miss meals anymore so that her kids can feed. The fridge is full of fresh food. New clothes have given her a renewed sense of trust to apply for work. In the car, there is enough petrol to drive to the stores or the park where her nine-year – old daughter likes to play, and she paid off the debts she owed on the kitchen appliances she rented to buy.

“The biggest problem when we were on $40 a day is if anything went wrong. Even something as simple as picking up a nail in the tyre, I would have to think, ‘can I afford to get that fixed this fortnight, can I afford to get it next fortnight?’ That money comes out of the food budget because there was no other leeway whatsoever.”

The Federal Government started tapering down the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement by $300 a quarter this week, bringing the total quarterly volume to $800. The supplement is expected to expire at the end of the year, and for 1.4 million Australians, welfare organisations fear JobSeeker will return to the initial $40 a day.

Although the Government has stated that some extra degree of funding will continue until 2021, it is not clear how long it will last, or whether the Government will lift the JobSeeker permanent rate for good.

Mr. Williams said the supplement to the coronavirus gave him more independence and less anxiety about handling every dollar.

“Now I’ve been able to experience a more happy, freeing life. To have that taken away just because the Government chooses not to renew or raise the rate in any way is a major problem,” he said.

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