Community-based asylum seekers expected to support themselves but advocates say many not ‘job ready’
Luke Henriques-Gomes, 23 Apr 2019
A Coalition government decision to slash income support for community-based asylum seekers has forced hundreds more to access emergency housing and food banks.
Eligibility requirements for Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) – about 89% of Newstart or $250 a week – were tightened in June last year, saving the budget about $90m. The changes will eventually reduce the number of recipients from 13,000 to about 5,000, advocates say.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) said in a report released on Tuesday that the cuts had already led to a huge surge in demand for food and accommodation.
“The ASRC has been inundated with requests for housing and cannot meet the demand,” the report said. “Families are currently increasingly at risk of homelessness.”
“At the peak of demand in 2018 the ASRC paid rent for 348 people through the Rent Assistance Program and has provided 64,643 nights of accommodation this financial year. This was up from only 96 people supported over 17,682 nights in the 2016 financial year.”
Demand for food parcels – particularly from those handed notice-to-vacate letters – had also risen to 750 people a week, compared with 590 in 2018.
The report said the centre was also providing more emergency pharmaceuticals and sleeping bags for people sleeping rough.
Those who have lost access to the payments – as well as casework support, assistance in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling, under the new eligibility requirements – have been granted work rights. About 1,200 have already lost the payments, the ASRC said.
While the government has said those “who have the capacity to work are expected to support themselves”, critics argue that many are not “job ready” because they face language barriers, do not have local work experience, and face discrimination.
The ASRC argued in its report that the changes could push asylum seekers into exploitative work conditions, citing the case study of a client whose daily hours at a bakery were increased from six to 12, reducing his pay to $10 an hour.
A separate report released in November by the Refugee Council of Australia that surveyed SSRS providers found the cuts would place almost 80% of their clients at risk of homelessness and destitution if they lost the payments.
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