Wollongong student says proposed changes to Centrelink benefits are harsh on young people

NOT HAPPY: University of Wollongong student Tom Lace is not happy about proposed government changes to Centrelink benefits. He says waiting four extra weeks for benefits will hurt students. Picture: Sylvia Liber
NOT HAPPY: University of Wollongong student Tom Lace is not happy about proposed government changes to Centrelink benefits. He says waiting four extra weeks for benefits will hurt students. Picture: Sylvia Liber

University of Wollongong student Tom Lace considers himself one of the lucky ones.

The 22-year-old works part-time and his situation with Centrelink is ‘’relatively stable’’.

Mr Lace has been able to stay clear of a lot of the ‘’nasty changes’’ but is ‘’quite concerned’’ for other people who are not as familiar with the [Centrelink] system.

The Coniston resident fears for students who will have to wait an additional four weeks before they can access Centrelink benefits, should proposed government measures be adopted.

‘’I’ve been in the system since I was about 16, on Youth Allowance in particular, and am quite familiar with how it runs. But, I’m quite concerned these changes will make things that much tougher for young people,’’ he said.

Mr Lace, who is doing his Honours in Arts and English Literature, said he rents a place with three other students just to ‘’cover the bills while living off two-minute noodles’’.

‘’It’s tough but it’s only going to get tougher if these changes are adopted,’’ he said.

‘’One of my housemates had to wait six weeks for his Centrelink application process to be approved and then after that you have to wait a further four-weeks until you start receiving payments. So you could end up with no income source for 10 weeks. How are you going to survive if you are living away from home and have to pay for rent, food and other bills.’’

Mr Lace said Illawarra’s high youth unemployment rate also made things incredibly difficult for students.

Illawarra Legal Centre youth advocate Georgina Pike said the Government needs to stop trying to punish young people.

‘’Youth unemployment is high in the Illawarra and asking young people to live on nothing is not going to change that,’’ she said.

‘’Forcing young Australians to live for five weeks without any income support will lead to an increase in poverty and homelessness.’’

Ms Pike said these ‘’harsh measures’’ have been bundled into an ‘’omnibus’’ bill, which promises an increase in childcare subsidies to low and middle-income families.

‘’Assisting families with childcare costs should not come at the price of forcing vulnerable young people into a further state of poverty,’’ she said.

The government is also proposing to deny young people the right to apply for Newstart payments until they turn 25, instead putting them on the lower Youth Allowance payment.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the Bill is not new.

 ‘’It is something we are doing for a clear reason – which is to create the right incentives to get young Australians studying...’’