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The Four-Year Wait: How new Australian residents are being put at risk of homelessness


The Federal Government is proposing a four-year wait period for certain social security payments for new permanent residents of Australia. We discuss how these changes will lead to increased poverty and risk of homelessness – with a disproportionate impact on women and children.

What is the four-year wait?

The Federal Government has announced significant changes to family and carer social security payments, which will see new permanent residents of Australia having to wait four years before being eligible to receive supports.

If the legislation passes, people who are granted a permanent visa from 1 January 2022 will have to wait four years before accessing a range of essential financial supports, including Family Tax Benefit, Carer Allowance, Carer Payment, Paid Parental Leave, and Dad and Partner Pay.

What does this mean?

The changes will strip away financial supports that enable people to raise children and care for their loved ones. In practice, this means families who are already struggling are likely to be thrown into financial stress and poverty – which are leading causes of homelessness.

Delaying access to supports means the thin margin between poverty and homelessness becomes even thinner, and would make it almost impossible for families to deal with an unexpected crisis that affects their ability to work – such as a workplace injury, family violence, or Covid-19 lockdowns.

Last year alone, 6,428 people who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the last four years presented to homelessness services. That number will rise if the proposed legislation goes ahead.

Who will be impacted?

The changes will have a “disproportionately gendered impact”, with the vast majority of people affected likely to be women and children – including those who are fleeing family violence – and people who are working in low-paid employment or in carer roles.

These families are permanent residents of Australia, and many have spent years working and paying taxes in Australia before gaining permanent residency status.

The changes will only serve to put up barriers to new resident families settling in Australia, bringing potentially damaging consequences for children’s wellbeing, learning, and development outcomes as they are forced to struggle to afford household essentials.

What about homelessness services?

Last year, every day an average of 260 people seeking support from homelessness services missed out because of limited resources and housing options.

Women and families who have no income typically stay in emergency accommodation for longer – sometimes for years – which then increases pressure on the system and results in more people being turned away.

The changes to support for newly arrived residents will exacerbate this issue, placing more pressure on Australia’s homelessness services during a period of intensified demand.

What next?

The proposed changes to the Social Security Act 1991 are being brought before Parliament, with a Committee due to report back on the changes by the end of this month.

On Monday 13 September, the Committee heard evidence from migrant and welfare advocacy groups at a public hearing, who underlined the likelihood of a rise in poverty for the children of migrants should be legislation pass.

Council to Homeless Persons has sent letters to Members of Parliament opposing the changes, expressing our concerns about the increased risk of homelessness, and asking for their support in the coming weeks.

We will continue to provide updates on future developments of this important issue via our social media channels and fortnightly eNews.

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