NSW is currently in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 that feels much like the first, despite the fact that our government had 18 months to prevent this from happening.

But alas, due to a bungled vaccine roll-out and a fatal sense of complacency, here we are yet again – Sydney under lockdown for nearly four weeks, non-essential businesses either closed or struggling, and no JobKeeper in sight.

After demands from unions and the public, The Australian Government did, however, recently introduce new COVID disaster payments. And while it’s great that some people can now access financial support they didn’t have before, I think it’s important to also talk about the people who aren’t eligible for this payment: people on Centrelink.

Initially, I thought the new COVID disaster payments introduced by our government could be a good alternative to reinstating JobKeeper – they were supposed to be in lieu of them, anyway.

When I was on JobKeeper last year, I was getting $750 a week (before tax) through my employer to keep the business running without losing staff.

The new COVID disaster payments give recipients less than that – $600 a week for people who have lost more than 20 hours of work a week, and $375 for those that have lost 8-20 hours of work a week. And they don’t guarantee you keep your job.

On top of that, the eligibility requirements are narrow. You have to be located near specific hot zones at specific times, you must typically work a certain amount of hours, and you can’t already be receiving any support from Centrelink – including Disability Support Pension (!!!), Youth Allowance or JobSeeker. Even though Australia’s welfare payments are actually below the poverty line.

Let’s put this into perspective.

The average rent per week for a house in Sydney is $540, though most people I know are paying more than that. For an apartment, the average is $495 a week.

Now compare that to how much people on, say, Youth Allowance are receiving from Centrelink. The amount Youth Allowance pays per fortnight varies based on people’s individual circumstances, but according to Service NSW, the rate per fortnight for independent young people is $512. In Sydney, the average rent for a home per fortnight is $1080, or $990 for an apartment.

Many people on Youth Allowance are share-housing, including a friend of mine who makes $307 on Youth Allowance per week, while his rent is $240 per week. If he isn’t making money from work, he’s left with $67 a week to spend on food, groceries, bills travel/public transport, and any other essential expenses. That’s not a lot, at all.

People on Centrelink should be just as entitled to COVID disaster payments as the rest of the population. There are so many ways this pandemic is affecting people, and Centrelink payments are not enough to keep people afloat if they lose work.

While something is definitely better than nothing, and I’m glad there is support out there for some Australians, it’s cruel to deny COVID-related support to people losing work just because they are already getting Centrelink payments. Needing financial assistance shouldn’t be a punishment, and we are all in this pandemic together.