Australian homelessness has increased during the pandemic despite a drop during the first wave of infection.
Homelessness Australia on Tuesday published an analysis of federal government data on the number of Australians requiring homelessness support.
It found that in May 2020, when the government doubled the JobSeeker welfare payment in response to widespread lockdowns, the number fell 5 per cent from 91,672 to 87,301.
However, with JobSeeker payment now wound back to 620 Australian dollars ($437.1) a fortnight, a slight increase from 566 Australian dollars ($399) prior to the pandemic, the number of people claiming homelessness support in May 2021 increased to 93,726.
Jenny Smith, chair of Homelessness Australia, called for a permanent JobSeeker increase to 966 Australian dollars ($681.1) a fortnight, equalling 69 Australian dollars ($48.6) a day.
“The sector has been saying for years now that increasing income support would reduce homelessness, and now we have the evidence that proves it,” she told Nine Entertainment newspapers.
“The federal government knows what it needs to do. If it raises the rate of JobSeeker for good, then far fewer people would find themselves without a home.
“There’s still an opportunity for that to happen because we will probably need more economic stimulus coming out of the pandemic.”
The federal government has ruled out a more significant increase, arguing that a rate too high could incentivize unemployment.
A spokesperson for federal Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said a permanent increase to 1,115 Australian dollars would cost an additional 81 billion Australian dollars ($57.1 billion) over the next four years.
“Our focus now is reopening the economy and supporting Australians into work because we know that for every person we get in a job, they are better off and the country is better off,” they said.