Much of the cash flowed to outer-urban areas including Hume, Wyndham, Whittlesea, Casey and Brimbank – which also had 43 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 infections – prompting Professor Hayward and his team to conclude the payments came not only at the right time but in the right places too.
Tuesday’s announcement by the federal government that the JobSeeker supplement would be cut again, to $150 a fortnight, provoked a storm of protest in the community sector, which said the move will force hundreds of thousands of Australians back into poverty during the COVID recession.
The federal government has always been clear that JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement were temporary supports, although it has indicated it may consider a permanent boost to JobSeeker, and has repeatedly called for the Victorian government to do more of the heavy lifting on income support for the state’s residents during the crisis.
The federal Treasury estimates that about $11 billion from a total of $18 billion in JobKeeper payments to be paid out between September and December will go to Victorians, and for the first three months of 2021, Victorian payments will account for $6 billion out of $10 billion.
Mr Frydenberg told The Age the level of income support being paid out was unprecedented.
“To help cushion the blow during this once-in-a-century global pandemic, the Morrison government is providing an unprecedented amount of economic support to workers, households and businesses,” the Treasurer said.
“The government is also providing a record amount of income support through a range of measures.”
Professor Hayward’s team acknowledged the misery the pandemic and associated lockdowns have inflicted on Melburnians and said international students, undocumented migrants and refugees without permanent visas were likely to have missed out on the policy success story, despite those groups being targeted for support by the state government.
But the research team found people on all categories of welfare payment, except the disability pension, moved from well below the poverty line to well above it as the federal government boosted its payments.
Households with two unemployed partners were the biggest winners, seeing their incomes rise collectively from between 10 to 20 per cent below the poverty line to between 35 and 65 per cent above it.
Professor Hayward said his team’s report showed how “big and tough” decisions by the federal government had lifted large numbers of Australians from their pre-COVID poverty.
“This research tells the story of one of Australia’s most extraordinary social policy successes, and how we’re about to let it all slip away,” he said.
“The report warns we’re poised not to capitalise on this good work, but instead to let people slip back below the poverty line.”
VCOSS chief executive Emma King said the findings proved that eradicating poverty was an achievable goal.
“For a brief moment, and for a lucky few, we eradicated poverty,” she said.
“In non-COVID times, these settings would have also allowed people to look for work without worrying about their next meal.
“It proves ending poverty isn’t a pipedream. It’s achievable.”
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said he was “concerned” about the latest coronavirus supplement reduction.
“These programs have provided crucial support for people right around the country, and while we’re glad the federal government has committed to keeping the JobSeeker program in place until March, we’re concerned they’ve again slashed the amount recipients receive,” Mr Pallas said.
The office of federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was contacted for comment on Wednesday.
Brunswick West resident Jay Coonan said the initial hike of JobSeeker to $1115 a fortnight gave him security as well as covering his fortnightly rent of about $280 and living expenses.
“I had all four wisdom teeth out during the year, which cost me about $280. If [JobKeeper] had been at the reduced rate, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford that.”
Mr Coonan said that under the reduced supplement rate of $150 a fortnight, about 85 per cent of his income would be spent on rent and essentials.
“That’s not buying new clothes, not really affording transportation or socialising on weekends,” he said.
“Obviously when I can I will find casual work, because what other choice do I have?”
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Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.