Our CEO, Melissa Perry wrote an opinion piece, which was published in The West Australian on 18 September 2020.
Mary very rarely smiles. Her chipped and broken teeth are a constant reminder of the violence she suffered at the fists of an abusive ex-partner.
Her smile betrays the better life she has since worked hard to create for her family.
Living on Newstart Allowance (now JobSeeker) made it impossible for Mary to get her teeth fixed; not with kids to feed and bills to pay.
When the coronavirus supplement of $550 per fortnight was introduced, Mary's life changed. Accustomed to an anxiety-driven existence where every dollar was accounted for, she could now budget for basic needs most of us take for granted.
It gave Mary the opportunity to see a dentist and arrange a payment plan to get her broken teeth fixed. She also bought new winter clothes for her children. It gave her a reason to smile and it gave her hope for the future.
Mary's story is one of the many to shine a light on the positive impact the coronavirus supplement has had on women's lives.
It supports the findings of independent research commissioned by Anglicare WA, Uniting WA, Ruah Community Services, WACOSS, Foodbank and Communicare, gauging West Australians' attitudes and perceptions on poverty and JobSeeker payments.
Conducted by Painted Dog Research, the Perceptions of Poverty in WA study revealed overwhelming support in the WA community to maintain an increase to the base rate of JobSeeker, bringing it above the poverty line of $457 a week.
Three-quarters of those surveyed said they believed the base payment should be higher, in order to cover basic necessities such as food, housing and bills. The coronavirus supplement has achieved this.
It has also played a vital role in supporting women and children experiencing family and domestic violence and those looking to re-establish damaged lives.
A recent Australian Institute of Criminology survey showed that more than half of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence before the COVID-19 crisis said the violence had become more frequent or severe since the start of the pandemic.
Thirty-three per cent said it was the first time they had experienced physical or sexual violence in their relationship.
In June this year, Communicare became the new custodian of White Ribbon Australia, a movement to eliminate gendered violence; to strive for an Australian society where all women and children are safe.
Access to crucial income support has provided an important safety net for women experiencing family and domestic violence.
Like Mary, they are sharing their stories about the life-changing, lifesaving changes this additional income has made to their lives.
Sadly, the coronavirus supplement boost to JobSeeker will be wound back to $250 a fortnight from September 24, taking those Australian households below the poverty line again.
This is simply not acceptable.
As our research shows, there is broad-based community support for a permanent increase to income support.
Not only is this the right thing to do, it makes good sense — it injects cash into the real economy and allows people to better support their families.
We urge the Federal Government to maintain the coronavirus supplement until we get permanent, adequate increases to key income support payments, including JobSeeker, Parenting and Family Payments and Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
Importantly, we need to ensure our income support system is equipped to enable women to forge new and safe lives, not force them to return to the hands of their abusers.
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