After months of receiving the coronavirus supplement, Caryn Hearsch is "terrified" at the prospect of reverting to the previous rate of Newstart.
She is not alone, with more than nine out of 10 people in a national survey reporting the removal of the new JobSeeker rate would have a significant or extreme impact on their ability to cover the cost of essentials.
The national survey by the Australian Council of Social Service of 955 people currently receiving JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or other social security payments with the coronavirus supplement shows the difference it has made to their lives.
The overwhelming majority of people who completed the survey had been receiving one of these social security payments before the coronavirus supplement was introduced.
- 94 per cent said the removal of the supplement would have a significant or extreme impact on their ability to cover the cost of essentials.
- 93 per cent said they were now able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.
- 83 per cent reported eating healthier and more regularly. Prior to the supplement, 74 per cent of respondents skipped meals. Of those who skipped meals, 28 per cent skipped one meal a day or more.
- 69 per cent said they were now able to pay for essential medical and health treatments.
- 75 per cent said they were able to pay their bills.
- 65 per cent said it was easier to pay rent or move to safer accommodation.
Ms Hearsch, 63, lives in Melbourne and isn't eligible to receive the age pension until 2023.
Previously she received $540/fortnight on Newstart and now receives $1100/fortnight, paying $500/fortnight to cover her mortgage. She lost her job as a medical secretary, due to a slow recovery from a fall when she was 56.
After years of struggling on Newstart, Ms Hearsch started receiving the coronavirus supplement in May.
In 2002, Ms Hearsch was fortunate to receive a home loan to buy a small house outside Melbourne. She says her priority is to keep up her mortgage repayments so she doesn't become homeless.
I'd have a meal once a day, or every couple of days. I could go a week just on milk or milk shakes.
"My bills have always been my priority, especially the mortgage because I have to have somewhere to live. I was homeless with my daughter 20 years ago when my marriage broke up ... I do not want to be homeless ever again," Ms Hearsch said.
"On Newstart, each fortnight I was $350 short to pay my mortgage and all the household utilities.
"To make extra cash each Saturday I'd load up my car and drive to the trash and treasure market to sell clothes and household bits and pieces, whatever I could fit into my car."
Ms Hearsch said there was never enough money for food.
"I make sure I get milk and bread, but meat and vegetables are not regular in my household.
"I'd have a meal once a day, or every couple of days. I could go a week just on milk or milkshakes.
"I have friends who dropped in bread, milk and cheese - I put it in the freezer and I made toasted cheese sandwiches and milkshakes.
"It wasn't surviving, it was just existing."
Losing her job led to depression.
"After 49 years of professional life I had nothing. I felt like I was nothing.
"I don't feel 63 now, I don't feel ready to chuck it in, I still want to work and get out and do something."
Suffering from osteoarthritis in her right leg, Ms Hearsch often doesn't have enough money for medication.
"Some weeks I have to choose between buying a bottle of milk and a pack of painkillers - how bad is it that? I have another friend who is on the pension and sometimes we share a pack of Panadol."
She says she is lucky that her bank manager put her on interest only repayments for her mortgage two years ago - paying $500/fortnight to keep the roof over her head.
"With the extra coronavirus payment, I now get $1100 and have $386 a fortnight for other bills and commitments," Ms Hearsch said.
"What I have gone through in the past seven years was as a result of a stupid accident which in turn ruined my life as I knew it ... I had a plan for my future, I had happy days, however, that all stopped and my life has not been the same since."
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said the survey showed that the increased JobSeeker rate is allowing people to cover the basic essentials of life.
"The survey makes it clear we can't go back to where we were - when people were struggling to survive on $40 per day, which is just not enough to live, let alone to cover the basics," Dr Goldie said.
"As we rebuild after the crisis, we can't turn our backs on those who are struggling - we need to permanently increase JobSeeker and Youth Allowance so that people have enough to cover the basics," said Dr Goldie.
When asked, "What are the major ways the coronavirus supplement will affect your life?":
- 65 per cent found it easier to pay rent or be able to move into better and safer accommodation
- 60 per cent could save up to purchase major household items (i.e., fridges, freezers, tables)
- 57 per cent were able to pay off debts
- 33.7 per cent could save up to pay for studying/training.