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Same cost of living, different pay rate: the discrepancy of Youth Allowance

Charlie receives the maximum Youth Allowance rate - $33 a day - because of her abusive home situation. But she’s still struggling, and Centrelink expects her parents to help.

“My dad started becoming really violent towards my mum, mostly verbally, but it did progress to the point where one night I had to call the police because he threatened to kill her,” Charlie said.

“I had full-on breakdowns like, I can't do this anymore, and was couchsurfing for a couple of months.”

Charlie, who’s name has been changed for safety, is one of thousands of Youth Allowance recipients who receive less than those on the JobSeeker (previously Newstart) payment - which gives about $40 a day - despite having the same expenses.

Youth Allowance is the name of all payments for people 24 years of age or younger. JobSeeker is the payment for people over 25 who are looking for work.

In a statement from December, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services attributed this discrepancy to the “principle that financial support for students is a shared responsibility between parents, the Government and students themselves.”

Illustration: Cindy Chen

But in order to be eligible for the maximum Youth Allowance payment, students must be forced to live away from home due to factors such as family violence.

Centrelink has acknowledged Charlie must live away from home for her safety. Yet Centrelink cannot acknowledge Charlie is unable to receive financial support from an abusive family situation.

The same statement said “the personal income threshold for student payments is $437 a fortnight and allows students to earn income from employment before their payment is reduced.”

This ignores the fact that Youth Allowance already requires individuals to be looking for work or studying full time.

Job searching is a difficult task for young people, especially when earning caps only let them work a certain amount of hours. As of November last year, the youth unemployment rate was at 11.7%, more than double the national average.

As coronavirus-related unemployment worsens, youth unemployment will climb even higher and will likely remain significantly above the national unemployment rate.

For youth like Charlie, the expectation of work is even more ridiculous.

“I can’t hold the phone some days because my wrists will dislocate if I do,” she said. “So if I had to work full-time or part-time I wouldn’t be able to do that at all.”

Charlie is disabled, and Centrelink has correctly evaluated her as being unable to work due to mental and physical illnesses, which is more than others can say. Charlie said she has her social worker to thank for that.

Because of these illnesses, Charlie receives the Youth Disability Supplement, which amounts to about an extra $100, bringing her payment in line with Newstart.

But what little extra she receives isn’t even enough to cover her medication.

Illustration: Cindy Chen

“One of my medications isn’t covered by PBS and that one’s $70 a month,” she said. “I’ve got three others that I need to get monthly and then I also go through a 100 pack of Paracetamol a month to function.”

“I’m also currently on the waiting list for rheumatology. If I want to go private for that it’s going to be a couple of grand. I got a letter saying it's a two year waiting list at the moment,” she said.

“If I were to get just a few extra dollars a day it would be a lot easier to access the medical care that I need really desperately.”

Charlie will be receiving the coronavirus supplement, enabling her to access medical resources she was previously unable to. But this supplement is only temporary, set to be scrapped after about six months.

Despite the supplement, Youth Allowance recipients will continue to receive less than those on the JobSeeker payment, at about $72 a day compared to about $80 a day.

Charmaine Crowe, a Senior Advisor for the Australian Council of Social Security, said young people who cannot rely on financial support from their parents should not be disadvantaged through the income support system.

“At $32 a day, Youth Allowance is even lower than the Newstart rate of $40,” she said. “Both have not been increased in real terms in 25 years.”

“The basic things people need to get by, like food, housing and energy, are not charged at a cheaper rate for younger people.”

“Many young people must support themselves, which can be really difficult when you’re studying full time or have had to move away from home to pursue education or training.”

The writer of this article receives the Youth Allowance payment.


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