Anglicare is calling on the government to raise the rate of welfare payments for good, as new research suggests a bleak outlook within the Illawarra's rental market for people on low incomes.
"I think for anyone on government benefits who is looking for an affordable rental, (odds of finding one) are smaller than the needle in a very large haystack," Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said.
Anglicare has released its Rental Affordability Snapshot, which includes analysis of the Greater Sydney and Illawarra region (in this case including Shoalhaven and the Southern Highlands).
The snapshot shows the number of affordable and suitable homes for rent for people on low income on the weekend of March 21-22.
On this weekend, a total of 23,108 private rentals were advertised for rent in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra.
In Greater Sydney and the Illawarra, 68 unique properties were affordable and appropriate for people living on income support payments without placing them in housing stress (more than 30 per cent of a household's income spent on rent). Of these properties, five were located in the Illawarra.
Also, 1464 properties were affordable and appropriate for people living on the minimum wage without placing them in housing stress.
Of these properties, 76 were located in the Illawarra.
Among households receiving income support payments, couples on the Aged Pension had the largest number of affordable and appropriate properties available to them across Sydney and the Illawarra (65), followed by single people on the Aged Pension (five) and Disability Support Pension (two).
No suitable properties were found for households living on the JobSeeker Payment (formerly Newstart Allowance) or Youth Allowance.
"One of the takeaways here is that the welfare benefits are just not assisting people who are living in the private rental market," Ms Chambers said.
"Which leads to another key point, which is that we need to have more social housing.
"We know that there is a shortfall of 5000 dwellings of social housing in the Illawarra region at the moment, and that's only going to grow unless we jump on top of it."
The snapshot was taken just days before the federal government announced a temporary, six-month increase to some government income payments, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
This 'Coronavirus Supplement', of an additional $550 per fortnight, will be paid to all new and existing recipients of the JobSeeker Payment (formerly Newstart Allowance), Youth Allowance, and Parenting Payments from April 27, 2020, in addition to their normal payments.
These temporary increases led to Anglicare posing a hypothesis: what would the change in rental affordability be for households in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra on government incomes, if the increase in payments via the Coronavirus Supplement was made permanent?
The study suggests that dramatic increases in the number of affordable and appropriate rental properties are seen for couples with two children where both adults receive the supplemented JobSeeker Payment, and for couples with two children on one minimum wage combined with Parenting Payment (Partnered).
More modest increases are seen for the other households receiving the Coronavirus Supplement plus the Jobseeker Payment, Parenting Payment (Single) or Youth Allowance.
The study shows that the households on Age Pension and Disability Support Pension, which do not receive the Coronavirus Supplement, miss out on these boosts to rental affordability.
"It didn't shift anything for single people, so that's a real difficulty," Ms Chambers said.
"And because the aged pensioners and the disability support pensioners didn't get the supplement, it doesn't change anything for them, but it makes it very stark how far behind they've been left."
Anglicare is therefore calling on the government to raise the rate of welfare payments for good.
"Welfare increases have given people badly needed relief," Ms Chambers said.
"But the market is still failing people on the lowest incomes."
Meanwhile, Everybody's Home spokesperson Kate Colvin said the rental snapshot showed how tough it is for people on low incomes and government support to find affordable rental accommodation.
"COVID-19 has exposed how badly broken our housing system is," Ms Colvin said.
"In the last few months we've seen rough sleepers with nowhere to shelter from the virus, renters facing eviction overnight, and Australians paying so much in rent they can't afford to stay afloat when they lose their job.
"As the economy recovers, we will also see more people experiencing homelessness than ever before."
In order to help fix Australia's housing system, Everybody's Home is calling for all parties to support investment in 500,000 social and affordable homes to create a safety net for Australian renters; fairer rental laws to protect renters from unfair evictions; and a national plan to end homelessness within 10 years.