28 July 2021

Allison Pennington: “Public health restrictions are … undermined if not coupled with a program of liveable income supports that allow people to stay safe — and keep others safe — by staying home. Intensive policing to enforce stay-at-home rules doesn’t work when people feel compelled to work because they have no other way to support themselves. In this regard, the uneven and inadequate patchwork of income supports provided through the federal government’s disaster payment program is not up to the task. For example, the federal government excluded anyone receiving welfare payments from receiving Covid disaster supports. But excluding our lowest-income most vulnerable communities from these supports isn’t just cruel. It also jeopardises public health. Many people receiving welfare payments also earn paid work income. … But they will not be compensated for losses in income resulting from the new lockdowns. Indeed, an estimated 400,000 unemployed or part-time workers across greater Sydney don’t qualify for Covid supports, purely because they receive another form of payment. These desperate people face continued compulsion to work, expanding the pool of desperate workers seeking precarious, dangerous cash-in-hand and gig work. We have already seen how this story ends: with WhatsApp security guards, pizza delivery drivers, and interstate removalists. With this arbitrary and dangerous policy choice, the federal government reveals its political priorities: to appear ‘tough on dole-bludgers’, and focus on deficit reduction even amid a pandemic. … The federal government can choose to do this right. Or it can choose to keep sending cruel ideological signals. All Australians hope it does the former.”