Welfare recipients kept the heater off during winter and cannot afford medication or medical care as they struggle to meet the rising cost of living, a new survey has found.
An Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) survey of 449 people living on the jobseeker, youth allowance and parenting payment included the “dire” findings that those on Centrelink payments were skipping medication, meals and even having fewer hot showers.
Of those surveyed between July and August, 85% were on the jobseeker payment, which was paid at a base rate of $46 a day at the time and is below accepted poverty line measures.
The Albanese government has ruled out raising welfare benefits in next month’s federal budget, pointing to the routine indexation of payments which recently lifted jobseeker to $48 a day as a result of rising inflation.
Acoss said the latest survey found 62% had difficulty getting medication or medical care due to the increased cost of living, seven in 10 were cutting their use of heating and 46% of respondents were going to bed early to keep warm.
“Sometimes I put off getting medications so can pay the gas bill. I limit my medications to make it last a bit longer and redirect money to put towards fresh food at times,” one respondent on the jobseeker payment told the survey.
With a fuel price hike looming when the excise is reinstated this week, the report found 70% of people who regularly use a car said they have had had difficulty travelling to work, medical appointments or other commitments as a result of increased fuel costs.
In line with past surveys, many respondents (62%) said they were eating less or skipping meals, while 71% reported cutting back on meat, fresh fruit and vegetables.
The small sample of 400 respondents also found many were affected by the national rental crisis, with 96% paying more than 30% of their income on rent and 48% reporting a rent increase in the past six months.
“My landlord now wants an increase in rent from $175 to $300 a week, which means I will go without food,” one person on jobseeker said.
Amid a social housing shortage, Anglicare’s rental snapshot has persistently found only a handful of listed rentals nationally are affordable for those on jobseeker.
While businesses continue to report labour shortages amid near-record low headline unemployment, there are still more people surviving on jobseeker benefits than before the pandemic hit.
Those who are on those payments are also increasingly likely to have illness or disability. Guardian Australia reported last week that 358,000 people on the jobseeker payment (43.1%) were classified as having a “partial capacity to work”.
Of all respondents, 96% said that the inability to cover the cost of living harmed their physical and mental health.
Acoss called for the government to increase income support payments to at least $73 a day in the October budget, while other groups, including the Greens, argue the payment should be lifted to the Henderson poverty line of about $88 a day.
The government has said it will consider the rate of welfare payments in next year’s May budget. It plans to reduce the maximum general co-payment for medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by $12.50 by 1 January 2023.