Throughout the inquiry, the committee received evidence about how the current income support system and payments for working-age jobseekers were negatively impacting individuals and communities.
The committee heard on numerous occasions that the current rates of Newstart and related payments are entrenching disadvantage instead of acting as a safety net when people are unemployed.
This chapter first explores how the poverty experienced by people on Newstart and related payments contribute to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
The chapter then discusses how financial hardship combined with the current rules to access crisis payments is elevating risks of family and domestic violence.
Finally, the chapter examines how the current system and payment rates significantly impede education attainments for children and students, resulting in further entrenching intergenerational disadvantage.
Deteriorating physical and mental health
The committee received considerable evidence in relation to the detrimental effects of living on Newstart and related payments on people's physical and mental health.
Inquiry participants were of the view that the current rates of payments are a key contributor to poor health and wellbeing outcomes for individuals and lead to unfair and avoidable health inequalities.
Poverty and physical health
Cohealth cited academic evidence showing that poverty is both a determinant and a consequence of poor health, and concluded:
[…] the relationship between low economic status and elevated incidence and prevalence of physical and mental illness is now well recognised.
Consumers Health Forum of Australia submitted that economic hardship is highly correlated with poor health and can threaten individual and family wellbeing, especially for the unemployed.
Dr John Boffa, Chief Medical Officer Public Health at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation contended that there was strong evidence that poverty causes premature death:
A paper published a few months ago said that about 50 per cent of the gap in the Northern Territory—which is 16 years—is due to poverty.[…] I would say that that gap in Australia, which is not actually known, is very large. Poverty causes premature death at quite a dramatic rate. The gap in America is now 16 years between the poorest and the richest.
As described in chapter 2 of the report, a consequence of living in poverty is the inability to regularly afford food or healthy food. Poor diet impacts on people’s overall health, ability to function and, in the case of children, their growth and development.
There is evidence that food insecurity increases the risk of obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. It also contributes to poorer health outcomes for people with chronic diseases:
I often skip meals to reduce costs which exacerbates my chronic illness.
Food insecurity can also result in more medication and health care needs:
I'm forced to eat a diet which is inexpensive rather than what my body is not allergic or intolerant to.[…]My health is adversely affected as I'm constantly paying for more medication to alleviate the side effects of poor, wrong diet.
Access to health care
Submitters were concerned that many recipients of income support payments are avoiding accessing health services because of cost, resulting in health further deteriorating over time.
The Tasmanian Council of Social Services (TasCOSS) reported that the only time people on income support payments see a medical practitioner is when they can access a bulk billing clinic or public hospital services.
However, submitters reported it was difficult to find a place that does bulk bill as bulk-billing clinics are often full or moving towards a fee-for-service model. In some towns, especially in regional and rural Australia, there are no bulk-billing clinics.
As a result, people forego or delay visits to the General Practitioner (GP), as they struggle to find the money to pay for the gap. This can result in more serious health problems, and people end up going to the emergency department of hospitals because they cannot afford a visit to the GP.
According to St Vincent’s Health Australia, it is also common for patients on Newstart not to be able to afford repeat scripts for essential medicines, which leads to further health problems and increases the likelihood of their re-admission to hospital.
Out-of-pocket costs for dental services put oral health care out of reach for people on income support payments.
Access to public dental services is difficult as waiting lists are very long and it often takes up to two years to see a dentist.
As a result some people live with significant pain and / or have lost their teeth. Often the inability to see a dentist causes costly and avoidable complications:
I wasn't able to afford regular dental treatment when I needed it, and the two-year public waiting list caused other costly dental complications, which could have been prevented if dental was accessible at the local GPs.
Many other submitters told the committee that the long wait to see a community dentist resulted in significant treatments that could have been avoided if a dentist had been seen earlier on.
Submitters also pointed out that the loss of teeth and / or decayed teeth are a significant barrier to employment, especially in customer-service roles. For example, a Newstart recipient reported:
My front teeth are the worst. I’m always covering my mouth so I know I can’t work in any retail customer service. No one’s going to want to see that. It’s disgusting. They are disgusting.
Similarly, Aeryn who is on Newstart, explained she could not afford the $7,000 she was quoted for extensive dental work and concluded:
This impacts my job prospects – who is going to hire someone, particularly in a public-facing role, who has bad teeth?
Private individuals and organisations consistently told the committee that being on Newstart and related payments gravely impact people’s mental health.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists submitted that there is strong evidence that income support recipients have higher rates of mental illness compared to the general population, and financial hardship is a key determinant of individual mental health and wellbeing.
A recent analysis of the National Health Survey found 49 per cent of people receiving Newstart reported ‘mental or behavioural problems’ compared to 21 per cent of the employed population.
Mr Harry Lovelock, Director, Policy and Projects at Mental Health Australia, explained to the committee how living below the poverty line impacts mental health:
The pressure for Australians surviving on a budget far below the recognised poverty rate exacerbates mental health problems and is counteractive to recovery and independence.
Based on her own lived experience, Ms Patricia Owen, who was on Newstart for a long time before recently starting her own business, summarised her views on the relationship between poverty and low levels of mental health:
Precarious income, precarious housing, precarious mental health.
As discussed in Chapter 2 of this report, people cannot afford to go out of their house for a cup of coffee, travel to see friends or attend community events. As a result, people are becoming socially isolated and feeling lonely, often resulting in the deterioration of their mental health.
Ms Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive of cohealth, contended that social isolation impacts on both physical and mental health:
There's emerging research which is starting to show that social isolation—particularly long-term social isolation—is the new smoking. The impact of long-term social isolation not just on an individual's mental health but also on their physical health—the impact on the increased risk of chronic disease and cardiovascular disease—is quite surprising.
COTA cited a survey undertaken by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University of Technology, which found that ‘loneliness is strongly connected to poorer quality of life and lower psychological wellbeing’ and added:
Loneliness also lowers the level of psychological health, with sufferers reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety, social difficulties and loss of confidence.
Joe, a 61 year old man on Newstart who cannot work because of a neck injury, described his situation:
I’m lonely because I can’t afford to go out. It makes me feel down and out. Even with a concession it’s about $5 or $6 for a ticket to the footy, by the time I travel there, petrol, food it’s probably about $30. […] Mental health is an issue, you feel down and out, but you’ve just got to keep going.
A Newstart recipient highlighted how his loss of social interaction contributed to his depression:
The isolation, particularly the social isolation and the loss of networks due to not being able to afford to socialise is incredibly depressing.
Adding to social isolation, many recipients of Newstart and related payments feel stigmatised, which also contributes to low levels of mental health.
St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) noted an increasing amount of negative commentary by media and political commentators about people receiving income support, implying that income support recipients are ‘dole bludgers’ and unwilling to find a job.
SVHA further submitted that stereotyping and stigmatising people on income support payments negatively impacts people’s physical and mental health.
Private individuals reported that they felt worthless because of being labelled ‘lazy’, ‘dole bludger’, ‘welfare cheat’ or described in other derogative terms. This greatly impacts on people’s mental health:
I feel that all I am now is a charity case, a burden, a leper, an outcast. Every single day I hear the leaders of this country with their vicious and dangerous rhetoric—'dole bludger', 'druggie', 'alcoholic', 'welfare cheat'. That's not who or what I am. That's not what my son is. That's not what any of us are. Every day I cry. Every day I think about suicide. Every day I'm angry.
Mental health conditions
Private individuals on Newstart and related payments reported that they suffer from depression, anxiety and other serious mental health conditions.
The 100 Families WA project found that ‘69.3 per cent of family members participating in the study reported they had been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, with anxiety disorders and depression the most common conditions’.
Ms Kym Goodes, CEO of TasCOSS, explained to the committee how the combination of factors associated with being on income support payments causes mental illness:
Their sense of self-worth is at a point where the lack of rise of Newstart, the living in poverty, the drug-testing narrative, the discussion around cashless welfare cards and the compliance issues that they go through in that Centrelink process—all that combined is actually creating high levels of mental ill health, despair and anxiety amongst our population. That includes people who are in precarious employment right now, in fear of losing their job.
The constant stress of living in poverty, and not being able to afford food and other essentials have led people to attempt suicide or take their own lives.
The inability to pay for medications aggravates conditions and can lead to suicide ideation or suicide attempts:
I am currently supposed to be taking antidepressants, but I don't have the money for them. I have not been able to take my antidepressants in almost a year, simply because I don't have the money to pay for the prescription. In the time I have not been taking my antidepressants, I have attempted suicide on a number of occasions, so I need my prescription.
In its submission, Orygen pointed out that research indicates a strong relationship between youth unemployment and low levels of mental health and wellbeing, and stated:
Long-term unemployment can have significant effects on a young person’s mental health, including: greater levels of anxiety and depression, higher suicide rates, alienation and increased anti-social behaviour.
Similarly, Ms Anne Bainbridge, CEO of the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia, raised grave concerns about the impacts of being unemployed and living in poverty for young people:
[…] the demoralising impact of being unemployed, and having to continue to meet obligations to get jobs that don't exist has a huge impact on people's self-esteem. Those things are not good for anyone, but if we're talking about 16- and 17- and 18- and 22-year-olds it has the potential to set them up for a lifetime of issues related to poverty. Even if they get out of poverty, some of those health impacts might have become entrenched […] and have become long term.
Ms Cat Nadel, Campaign Director at YOUNG Campaigns, stressed to the committee that her ‘generation is experiencing the highest rates of depression and anxiety in history, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment’ and that there is a strong connection between the inadequacy of income support payments and the low levels of mental health experienced by young people.
Access to mental health care
Access to mental health care services is compounded by out-of-pocket costs, the limited number of sessions subsidised on a mental health plan and the limited number of clinicians that offer bulk-billed services.
Consumers Health Forum of Australia reported that the inability to afford to see a mental health professional exacerbated illness.
For example, a recipient of income support payments stated:
I had to stop seeing my psychologist as I regularly couldn't afford the gap. This significantly impacted my mental health because I struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and am sometimes suicidal.
The committee heard on many occasions that the current rates of income support payments are resulting in increased costs to the health system.
For example, it increases the cost pressures on hospital budgets. According to a recent study led by Professor Alex Collie, Newstart recipients are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to visit a hospital than wage earners.
As discussed earlier, the delays to access health care because of financial hardship can lead to more serious health problems and subsequently to more costs to the health system.
The impact of mental ill-health on the economy is also significant. For example, a 2009 Australian study of the economic impact of mental ill-health experienced by 12-25 year olds found that the annual cost to the economy was over $10.6 billion.
According to Orygen, between 30 to 50 per cent of all new disability benefit claims are due to mental ill-health. Given the early onset of mental illness, there is a potential for a young person to spend more than 40 years on disability payments.
Benefits of an increase on health outcomes
Inquiry participants pointed out that raising the rates of income support payments would reduce pressure and costs on the health system.
Justice Peace Office cited the recent study led by Professor Alex Collie as evidence that an increase of income support payment rates could turn the poor health outcomes of recipients of Newstart and related payments around and help them get back to work.
Other submitters also stressed that an increase in the rate of payments would help people become healthier. This would reduce pressure and costs on the health system.
For example, Mason who is on Newstart, told the committee that a modest increase would enable him to ‘be able to focus on being healthy’ and ‘afford something resembling adequate healthcare’.
The negative impacts of the current rates of income support payments on physical and mental health are highly concerning. The evidence received by the committee from health organisations and private individuals indicate that people experience a significant decline in their health and wellbeing as soon as they become reliant on income support payments. The causes and consequences of their deteriorating overall health are complex. However, it is clear that their inability to afford adequate and timely health care plays a significant role in their declining health. Additionally, as described by submitters, skipping medications and poor diet due to financial hardship worsen existing conditions and elevate the risks of medical complications.
The committee agrees with inquiry participants that an increase in financial resources would have a positive impact on people’s overall health and reduce some pressures on the health budget.
The committee is of the view that out-of-pocket health costs significantly contribute to income support recipients facing challenges to access adequate healthcare. It is urgent to introduce measures to reduce medical costs for income support recipients and low-income earners.
The committee recommends the Australian Government introduce measures to further reduce out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income earners and income support recipients.
The committee recognises the limitations of this inquiry to make adequate recommendations to address the growing health inequality in Australia and the complex issues associated with poverty and poor health outcomes. A better understanding of the extent of health inequality in Australia, its causes and broad consequences is warranted to enable the development of appropriate public health and social policies, including those related to the eligibility and rates of income support payments.
The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Community Affairs References Committee an inquiry into health inequality in Australia.
The committee acknowledges that the low accessibility and high cost of dental care is not new and not limited to recipients of income support payments. It affects many other Australians. Ongoing pain, medical complications, hospitalisations and loss of teeth are common consequences of the inability to access and afford dental services. The committee notes that poor dental health was highlighted as a barrier to employment.
The committee is of the view that more needs to be done to ensure Australians have regular and timely access to dental care services. The issues of access, costs and subsidies of dental care warrant investigation.
The committee recommends the Senate consider referring to the Community Affairs References Committee an inquiry into provision of dental care in Australia.
As explained by mental health experts, the pressure of surviving on a budget below the poverty line exacerbates mental health problems. Stigma, isolation and financial stress are key factors to poor mental health. The committee agrees with submitters that an increase in financial resources would have positive impacts on people’s mental health. However, much more is required to address the mental health issues experienced by those who receive income support payments.
Importantly, a holistic and person-centred care approach is paramount to support people with mental health conditions. Mainstream employment services are generally not suited for this cohort as they are often not linked with other services. Chapter 5 of the report discusses employment services and some of the innovative programs that have successfully increased workforce participation for those experiencing mental illnesses. Such targeted programs need to be supported and adequately funded. With the anticipated impacts of COVID-19 on mental health, more than ever, jobseekers need to access appropriate support services that can meet their needs.
The budget initiatives announced in the 2019 Federal Budget in relation to mental and suicide preventions need to be sustained and consolidated. The Australian Government must remain committed to allocating sufficient funds to community health initiatives, including those focused on adults and workers.
Domestic and family violence
Australia has high rates of domestic and family violence: one in six Australian women and one in 16 men have been subjected, since the age of 15, to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner.
The committee heard on numerous occasions that because of the low rates of income support payments, victims of domestic and family violence are unable to leave a violent relationship or are forced to return to their unsafe living circumstances.
Economic insecurity and the threat of poverty and homelessness is a significant barrier to victims of domestic violence leaving an abusive relationship. It is also one of the most common reasons why victims return to a violent relationship.
The Australian Association of Social Workers cited a study that estimates that leaving a violent relationship costs on average $18,000, and concluded:
It is clear that the level of Newstart is so low that women and children are not able to meet these costs […] and often have no savings and no way to leave a violent partner.
In particular, the committee heard that the low rates of income support payments can make re-establishing stable housing more difficult. This leaves victims and children in poverty and unable to afford decent housing.
The National Social Security Rights Network stressed that for people trying to escape domestic and family violence, adequate income support payments are critical and added:
People whose sole income is Centrelink payments often have no savings and no way to leave a violent home and set up a new one. The low rate of Newstart makes it very difficult for people to save enough money to cover a housing bond, rental payments, furniture and other associated costs of leaving.
As Dr Sarah Squire from Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand pointed out, links between economic insecurity and domestic violence are complex:
Economic insecurity is not only a consequence of family violence but is itself a form of family violence—in the case of economic abuse, where there is a deliberate strategy to keep the victim economically unsafe in order to control them.
Social security system
Submitters highlighted structural flaws in the social security system, which put victims of domestic and family violence at risk. These include delays in accessing payments for people in crisis, the restrictive criteria to access Crisis Payment and the expectation that people in relationships share income and assets resulting in ineligibility for income support payments or Centrelink debts for the victims.
Crisis Payment is available to people in a range of circumstances, including those who have experienced domestic and family violence. It is a one-off payment that equals the weekly rate of income support payment that the applicant usually gets (minus extra allowances and supplements). A person going through extreme circumstances can get up to four crisis payments over 12 months.
Other eligibility rules include meeting residency rules and applying for crisis payment within seven days of an extreme event occurring.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and other submitters expressed the view that the current Crisis Payment system is ill-suited to people experiencing domestic and family violence because the window for claiming the payment is too short, the amount is too low and it is only accessible up to four times per year.
Submitters also mentioned that the residency requirements are forcing many victims, especially women on temporary visas, to stay with a violent partner.
Timeframe for claiming
The inadequacy of the timeframe allocated to claim a crisis payment was discussed at a public hearing in Melbourne:
The first issue that is recognised with the crisis payment is the tight time frame to apply […] I know from experience that that seven days is one of the first hurdles that prevent women from accessing the crisis payment.
The Australian Association of Social Workers argued that the seven days window to claim a Crisis Payment was too short for victims who may be traumatised and in need of support.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and other submitters recommended extending the claiming period to a minimum of 14 days.
Submitters argued that the Crisis Payment should not be restricted to four times in 12 months.
The National Foundation for Australian Women and other submitters recommended increasing the availability of the payment to up to six times in 12 months.
Submitters stressed that the Crisis Payment that is equivalent to only one-week income support payment was insufficient.
AWAVA recommended that the 'Crisis Payment be increased to the equivalent of four weeks single rate pension, at approximately $1640.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand made some suggestions to better support victim survivors:
[…] ensure they have access to both short-term crisis payments and more substantial and flexible supports that assist them to recover from the long-term negative impacts of family violence.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand pointed out that the rules to determine the relationship status of a social security applicant are inadequate and can endanger victims by tying their access to income support to their perpetrators through the 'couple rule'.
The National Social Security Rights Network was concerned that the 'couple rule' can result in victim survivors receiving a lower rate of payment, which even further limits their ability to save up enough money to leave an abusive relationship.
Friends of Sole Parents Inc noted that the need to provide proof of single status was problematic for sole parents, 'meaning that they and their children are financially dependent on their violent partner for survival'.
The Victorian Government cited a study by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety raising concerns about Centrelink's approach to the 'couple rule':
Centrelink struggles to distinguish between genuine relationships and cases of abuse, and uses inappropriate information (including police and hospital records) to determine whether or not victim survivors are part of a couple.
The committee agrees with submitters that the social security system is not adequately supporting victims of domestic and family violence. The committee is very concerned that the low rates of income support payments contribute to putting victim survivors at elevated risk of domestic and family violence.
The Crisis Payment rules and eligibility criteria should be reviewed to enable a more flexible approach to support people experiencing domestic and family violence. Additionally, as outlined in the Fourth Action Plan 2019-2022 – National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, the Department of Social Services and Services Australia should immediately review options to provide faster access to payments and supports for people affected by family and domestic violence.
The committee recommends the Department of Social Services immediately improve the level of and access to the supports available through Centrelink services to victims of domestic and family violence, including:
the Crisis Payment eligibility criteria, including the number of times an individual can apply for the Crisis Payment;
the adequacy of Centrelink rules and practices to establish the relationship status of a social security applicant;
the delays in accessing payments; and
the availability of trained and specialised staff operating in Centrelink offices to support victims of domestic and family violence.
Poverty has profound impacts on education outcomes for students of all ages, from young children to mature age university students.
Primary and secondary school students
Recent work examining child poverty has shown that children who experience poverty have poorer cognitive and educational outcomes.
Having to live in precarious conditions, not eating regularly, missing out on school activities, not having access to educational resources contribute to poorer educational outcomes and entrench disadvantage.
Lack of access to educational resources and activities
Inquiry participants reported that school children are disadvantaged as their parents cannot afford educational activities and materials, including school excursions, school uniforms and text books for their children.
Emergency relief organisations reported an increase in demand from low income families and single parents to cover education costs including uniforms, books, excursions and sports participation.
For example, the 2018 Economic and Social Impact Survey of people accessing Emergency Relief found that 55 per cent of families could not afford up-to-date school books and clothes for their children; and 63 per cent could not afford money for their children to participate in school activities.
Financial Counselling Australia noted that children missing out on activities such as school excursions are not only not receiving the same educational opportunities as others but are also likely to be psychologically impacted.
Similarly, Ms Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People in South Australia, pointed out that poverty also impacts on school students' mental health and relationships with peers as they felt stigmatised and excluded.
The committee heard that poverty contributes to school absenteeism because parents cannot afford food for lunch boxes or other essentials such as clothing or hygiene products. For example, Renna told the committee:
If I can't afford a school lunch, then I can't send my daughter to school—and she hasn't been for the last two days.
The shame associated with the lack of money to pay for school excursions is also a cause of absenteeism:
We see people who tell us that they keep their children back from school on days when there might be an excursion or even days where the money for an excursion is going to be collected, so that their child doesn't have to say, 'No, I can't go'.
The committee also heard evidence that school students whose parents cannot afford to buy their school uniforms are sent home by schools:
We've got kids who have been turned away at the school gate from a state school because they don't have the correct uniform on. They were [sic] sent home and excluded from education because they haven't got the branded uniform.
Tertiary education students
The inadequacy of Austudy, Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY payments are significantly impeding students' academic performance and ability to complete their studies.
The 2017 Universities Australia Student Finances Survey showed that the financial stress experienced by students is significantly impacting their ability to study and complete courses.
Low income support payments increase the difficulties faced by students from low socioeconomic or disadvantaged backgrounds in entering and remaining engaged in higher education.
A 2018 survey commissioned by the Department of Education found that 22 per cent of students from low socioeconomic status (SES) were considering leaving their studies compared with 18 per for high SES students. The survey found that the most common reasons for undergraduate students to consider leaving their studies included health or stress (45 per cent); finances (25 per cent) and the need to do paid work (25 per cent).
Impacts on ability to study
Financial stress has a substantial effect on students' studies. A study undertaken by researchers from James Cook University found that among full-time social-work students, the lack of sufficient income support payments resulted in:
59 per cent not having enough money for educational resources;
39 per cent needing to skip classes to attend a paid job;
50 per cent getting lower grades than they could have achieved;
23 per cent needing to defer a course or reduce their study load in order to work; and
26 per cent increase in the likelihood of dropping out of the course.
Insufficient income support contributes to students dropping out or university. According to the ANU Law Reform and Social Justice Research Hub, the loss resulting from students dropping out is not just to the individuals who incur on average a $12,000 debt as well as lost earning potential but to society as a whole, which benefits from having successful graduates of higher education.
Submitters were concerned that many full-time students have to work long hours to avoid poverty, which negatively impacts their ability to study and complete their courses.
For example, Universities Australia stated that having to work part-time affected students' completion rates:
Studies have shown hours of part-time work are negatively correlated with completion of university courses, further highlighting the need to ensure adequate amount of student income support payment for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
While working part-time does have benefits, the long hours, workload pressures and mental health consequences are directly impacting on students' learning outcomes.
Financial stress, and the need to work, force some students to study part-time, leading to a delayed start of their professional career:
Study needs to be undertaken part-time to combine employment and work to pay bills. If I was able to do it full time I would be qualified and contributing more to society as a social worker and starting my career. Instead it has to take longer while I answer phones still dreaming of the day I start my career.
Other issues with student income support programs
Universities Australia stated that there are 'critical weaknesses in the administration of student income support programs including long delays in processing times and a lack of clarity about decisions that are taken'.
In particular, Universities Australia is concerned that this has resulted in new students commencing university without having confirmation of income support.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations is concerned that access to income support for low-income domestic postgraduate research and coursework students is restricted to a limited number of courses.
Submitters called for a review and an easing of eligibility criteria to support students in their tertiary studies.
The University of Sydney pointed out that the adequacy of the student income support system and its administration has not been independently reviewed since the review led by Professor Kwong Lee Dow in 2011.
As demonstrated by the evidence received by the committee, the disadvantages faced by children and young people whose parents rely on income support payments are myriad. The committee is particularly concerned that academic potential is significantly compromised when parents cannot afford basic essentials such as food for lunch boxes, school uniforms and educational text books. As described by submitters, the cost of education, even in public schools, has become prohibitive for low income families. Allowing the JobSeeker Payment to fall below the poverty line is likely to further entrench intergenerational disadvantage. By not getting the same educational opportunities as their peers in primary and secondary school, these children are likely to struggle to complete an education and, ultimately, this may compromise their prospects to secure stable employment when they leave the education system. This is also likely to increase their risk of becoming reliant on income support payments in their adulthood.
The high rate of student poverty demonstrates the inadequacy of the rates of income-support payments available to students, including Youth Allowance, Newstart, Austudy and ABSTUDY. It is deeply concerning that students are dropping out of courses or taking longer to complete their education because of inadequate supports and investments from the Australian Government. Investing in education and training is paramount to ensuring Australians adapt as jobs change and are increasingly relying on knowledge and cognition rather than manual labour. If the Australian Government wishes to increase the prospects of the unemployed, they must better support students of all ages, including mature-age students, to attend and complete tertiary education courses through increasing Austudy and ABSTUDY rates of payments. Additionally, based on the evidence received by the committee, it would be beneficial to review eligibility criteria of these allowances and examine the adequacy of the Centrelink processes to ensure students are not penalised by delays and / or interruptions of payments.
The committee recommends the Australian Government immediately undertake a review of Austudy and ABSTUDY to examine:
the adequacy of the eligibility criteria;
the appropriateness of the application process and timeliness of decisions; and
determine rates of payments that ensure people do not live in poverty.
The committee recommends the Australian Government commission in 2021 an independent review of the student income support system and its administration.