Our analysis of survey results indicates that the changes to SRSS create and amplify a range of risks to the wellbeing and welfare of people seeking asylum living in the Australian community.
Taking financial support away from people seeking asylum will put them at significant risk of poverty and homelessness
Community sector organisations in Australia have consistently raised concerns about the risks of destitution for people seeking asylum created by stringent government policies (see, for example, Red Cross; ASRC; Refugee Council of Australia; Asylum Seekers Centre; House of Welcome). The SRSS payment rates have long been considered inadequate, leading to widespread reliance on relief services including emergency accommodation. ACOSS released a report it commissioned by Deloitte Access Economics, arguing an increase of $75 a week in Newstart allowance is needed and will boost consumer spending, create more jobs and lift wages. The report found a person on Newstart lives on “around 36% of the average wage after tax and a little more than half of what someone working full-time on the minimum wage”.
Withdrawing even that inadequate financial support significantly compounds the risk of poverty for this group. With no stable source of income, people seeking asylum are likely to fall well below the poverty line, currently estimated at $518.63 per week for a single adult in the workforce including housing costs, and $974.14 per week for a couple with two children.
Our survey results show that almost four in five (79%) people seeking asylum in our respondents’ caseloads are at risk of homelessness or destitution if they lose SRSS support. Seventeen of the 24 organisations in our sample were already providing emergency relief services (including food banks) to people seeking asylum as the SRSS changes were being phased in (see Figure 2 below). Across our sample, approximately 42% of total combined budget was allocated to providing these emergency relief services.
Ten organisations were providing housing support (13% of total budget spend), while eight organisations were also providing homelessness services (8% of total budget spend) to
Our survey asked organisational representatives to indicate what proportion of their clients seeking asylum were also accessing different services from other providers. Our respondents estimated that 72% were accessing emergency relief services from other providers, and 48% were accessing homelessness services from other providers. (We treated these categories separately according to the Department of Social Services (DSS) distinction between housing assistance (provision of affordable housing) and homeless services (direct support to people at risk of homelessness).
Over the years, the community sector has raised concerns about the risks of destitution and homelessness for people seeking asylum. These risks are now only amplified by the withdrawal of income support (however inadequate) and casework services provided through SRSS, with increased demand expected across service areas such as emergency relief packages, emergency accommodation, and homelessness services. We expand further on these risks below.