Edition 2 2021

Concerns Arise as COVID-19 Supplement End-Date Looms

26 April 2021

As financial supplements introduced by the government during COVID-19 are set to end on 28 March, there is rising discussion over the potentially adverse impacts that this may have on tertiary students across Australia. 

Whilst some students have been able to access such financial support, others have been excluded from receiving government welfare payments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Professor of Economics Jan Kabatek from the University of Melbourne has said that there is a “polarising impact between Australian students and international students,” in regards to receiving financial support from the government. 

International students have been ineligible to receive JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments during COVID-19. Instead, the University of Melbourne offered an Emergency Support Fund to students, for which applications closed in November 2020. 

“It’s heart-breaking [for international students] to see friends around you receive generous support, whilst you receive nothing,” says Kabatek. 

University of Melbourne economics Professor Jeff Borland, however, is optimistic about employment within the industries which students are highly concentrated in.

“In industries such as hospitality and retail, employers actually can’t get enough workers. There’s less competition for jobs currently,” says Borland. 

He projects that “JobKeeper ending will result in a small rise in unemployment as employers have less incentive to keep workers, but it won’t be too significant and won’t bring us back to the unemployment levels of May 2020.” 

However, a University of Melbourne student currently receiving JobSeeker payments has expressed concern over the reduction of support from 28 March onwards. 

“The idea of the future is a little turbulent, not knowing whether I’ll have financial security or not,” says the student.

“With the reduced payments, JobSeeker only just covers my rent.” 

Although they have been able to find work, they are also concerned that the job is ‘too casual’ in regards to hours and sustainable employment. 

Although the government has held the position that the JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplements were always a temporary program, the cost of the scheme has been forecasted to come in at $10 billion less than what was expected to be spent. 

“I think it’s important for the government to have a sizeable increase in JobSeeker, but it seems unlikely that will happen,” argues Professor Borland. 

While the government recently introduced a $50 increase to the base fortnightly JobSeeker, Austudy, ABSTUDY and Youth Allowance rates, the payments will still fall below the poverty line despite being the first significant increase in welfare rates since 1994.

The stagnation of welfare support coincides with the upward trend of tertiary students engaging in part-time work while completing their studies, which a past study suggests may impact quality of education.

After 28 March, the retraction of COVID-19 supplements could potentially widen the socioeconomic gap between students who have financial support and those who may have to work to continue their studies.

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