More than one million Australian children face living below the poverty line if the $550-a-month coronavirus supplement is cut off in September. The unemployment spike caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed up the number of children living in benefit-dependent families to more than one in five 0-14 year-olds. Welfare advocates and social policy experts warn that without the benefit supplement, many families would spiral into poverty. New figures released to the Senate COVID-19 committee reveal that 2,242,392 people were receiving the supplement as at June 26, including 1,758,700 people on unemployment benefits, up by almost a million since December.

Based on the proportion of families with children usually receiving unemployment benefits, and those in families receiving the Parenting Payment Single, the number of children in the danger zone conservatively now reaches more than a million. “These children have effectively been taken out of poverty by virtue of the supplement, and we congratulate the government for that. But if it is removed in September, we risk plunging them back into poverty or potentially into poverty for the first time,” Anti-Poverty Week executive director Toni Wren said. Ms Wren said a combination of the bushfires and the corona­virus pandemic had pushed the number of children living in poverty (defined as a household with income less than 50 per cent of median income) from an already unacceptable one in six 0-14 year-olds, or around 780,000, to over a million.

“We know that growing up in poverty sets children back in their learning at school and affects their physical and mental health, and these negative effects can last a lifetime as they flow into job prospects and adult health,” Ms Wren said. “Effectively doubling the JobSeeker payment via the $550-per-fortnight coronavirus supplement has lifted many thousands of children out of poverty and prevented others in newly unemployed families from plunging into poverty. “But we are deeply concerned about the impact on children if the support is withdrawn,” she said. “It is acting like welfare should right now, providing poverty protection.”

The government is looking to avoid an economic cliff in September when the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are due to come to an end. Josh Frydenberg recently announced further temporary support arrangements to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Social policy expert Peter Whiteford from the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy agreed there was a danger that one million children were in line to return to poverty conditions without a policy change. “We definitely have to avoid this cliff on September 24,” Professor Whiteford said. “It would be catastrophic socially and economically to go back to the old benefit level.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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