The base rates of Australia’s working-age social security payments are below the poverty line, and have been for some time. Additionally, people who receive payments are often required to undertake various ‘mutual obligations’ such as 'Work for the Dole.' In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government introduced a $550 per fortnight Coronavirus Supplement (‘the Supplement’) from 27 April 2020 for a period of six months and temporarily suspended mutual obligations.

As states and territories were able to control the spread of the virus and ease restrictions, the Australian Government began to reduce the Supplement and re-introduce mutual obligations. Even with the Australian Government’s recently legislated permanent increase to the base rate of payments of $50 per fortnight, people receiving these payments will continue to live in poverty.

This study used an online survey to examine how people receiving social security payments used the $550 Coronavirus Supplement (‘the Supplement’) and their time as a result of the temporary suspension of mutual obligations. The authors were also able to compare whether these changes differed from people who did not receive the Supplement, either because their payment did not include the Supplement or because they did not receive social security payments.

Key findings:

  • The Supplement was used by respondents for meeting basic needs, as well as other strategic expenditures to improve their household’s long-term financial security.
  • The Supplement and suspension of mutual obligations improved respondents’ physical and mental health and contributed to their overall wellbeing. These dramatic changes enabled people to turn their attention away from day-to-day survival and towards envisioning and working towards a more economically secure future for themselves and their dependents.
  • The Supplement and suspension of mutual obligations allowed people to better engage in many forms of unpaid productive work, including care work and community support.
  • These policy changes meant that the pandemic was a period of reprieve for many people receiving social security payments due to the easing of financial stress, scrutiny, and uncertainty. This is very different to normative characterisations of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, which was experienced as a period of great stress and uncertainty for many people.
Publication Details
License type:
Access Rights Type: