Thousands of people seeking protection while living in the Australian community are at risk of destitution and homelessness due to the latest government move to completely cut income support for people who need it the most.
The federal government is planning to make cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program that provides a basic living allowance (typically 89% of Newstart allowance, equating to just $247 per week), casework support, assistance in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling. People waiting for a decision about their claim for protection receive these supports.
An alliance of close to 100 civil society organisations, including the Refugee Council of Australia and Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the government to urgently reverse their position to cut income support for people seeking asylum from 1 April 2018.
Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, says the government has already heavily cut income and other supports to people who are rebuilding their lives in Australia.
“People who would be affected include fathers, mothers, young people and children who are part of our schools, our workplaces, and our communities,” said Mr Power.
“Many still have years before a decision will be known on their status. What are they to do in the meantime without any income?
“The government needs to take a step back and remember for a second that we are talking about people – people who have escaped war and risked death by traveling the long treacherous journey to Australia via long stays in places where they were given no status or protection and often ended up in detention centres. They are men, women and children who are traumatised and stateless. Many remain fearful of returning to their countries and cling to hope in Australia.
“It is absolutely clear people who have already faced terrible trauma in their lives will, in Australia, be forced into homelessness if they don’t have any income support.
“These cuts are terribly short-sighted. This is not a budget saving measure, it is a budget shirking.”
Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, says parents seeking protection are already skipping meals to pay for their children’s medication and food.
“It is appalling the government is wanting to cut people off income support entirely. What are people meant to do with no income at all? How can they feed and get their children to school?” says Dr Goldie.
“People will become homeless, their health will suffer and they will be unable to feed themselves. As a country, do we think it is acceptable that children go without meals, education, and a roof over their head?
“$247 per week is so little to live on. It is outrageous the government is even considering cutting this payment entirely.
“People living in Australia, including people seeking asylum, have the right to access Australia’s social safety net if they need it. That’s why it’s there. For when people need it.”
Mr Power says the cuts will put a huge amount of pressure on local communities, local councils, state and territory governments, and charities.
“After four years of social security policy changes cutting the incomes of people already vulnerable, community organisations, church groups and individuals trying to help people facing destitution are already exhausted and overstretched.
“People and families living without any income support will mean these organisations and individuals will be in overdrive trying to avoid people and families falling into destitution.
“Various schemes assisting people while they wait for a decision on their status determination have existed with bipartisan support for years.
“We call on the federal government to retain the SRSS scheme for all people seeking protection in Australia.”