Three years ago, a BBC interview went viral when the interviewee’s children ran enthusiastically into his office mid discussion. In 2020, a clip like that would no longer even raise an eyebrow. In 2020, our screens are windows and the curtains have been drawn back. Suddenly we have glimpses into each other’s homes and lives – noisy children, wayward pets, washing baskets and bookshelves all on display.
2020 has also given a glimpse into the lives of people experiencing unemployment and poverty in a way we have not had in living memory. As the number of people unemployed or with reduced hours skyrocketed, more of us saw, and then many of us lived, the experience of financial hardship.
People who had never had to deal with Centrelink before suddenly found themselves forming a queue. Indeed, here at The Salvation Army, around 40 per cent of people seeking financial support from us were asking for help for the very first time. Our EmploymentPlus services saw an increase of people looking for jobs from 38,000 in March to 58,000 in November. When JobSeeker was at the highest rate in history, we saw people who suddenly lost their jobs struggling to make ends meet.
The Salvos have been in the business of helping people who have fallen on hard times for around 140 years in Australia. We’ve been advocating to government about the rate of the JobSeeker Payment (previously the Newstart Allowance) for what feels like almost as long. The base rate of JobSeeker and Youth Allowance is so low that it acts as a barrier to getting a job. It is so low that it becomes, in effect, a poverty trap.