The income gap between people without paid work and sole parents, and the broader community is widening, according to a new study tracking income support over two decades.

Australian Income Support Since 2000: Those Left Behind, was launched earlier this week by the ACOSS/UNSW Sydney Poverty and Inequality Partnership to mark Anti-Poverty Week.

The report notes median household incomes have grown 45% since June 2000 with Age and Disability Support Pensions almost keeping pace.

“People receiving unemployment and single parent income support payments have been badly cast adrift,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS. “Those doing it toughest have been held further behind, making it that much harder to look after their health and families, as well as participate in the workforce.

“Apart from the brief period when the Coronavirus supplement was paid, the performance of the income support system during this period of robust economic growth has left whole groups of people further and further behind the rest of the community.”

Professor Carla Treloar, Director of the Social Policy Research Centre and the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW, said there was a clear discrepancy between different forms of income support.

“This research poses serious questions about Australia’s income support system. If it’s good enough for the Age Pension to keep pace with broader income growth we need to ask why the same principle does not apply to support for the unemployed and sole parents,” Professor Treloar said.

The Disability Support Pension has the same base payment rate as Age Pension, and so single DSP recipients similarly benefited from a substantial increase in payments in 2009.

However, that did not benefit all people living with a disability due to eligibility constraints. The percentage of people with a partial capacity to work receiving unemployment payments (rather than for example the Disability Support Pension) increased from 5% in 2007 to 33% in 2021.

Eligibility constraints also affected sole parents, Professor Treloar noted.

“A series of policy changes have seen many single parents moved on to lower payment categories such as JobSeeker over the past two decades. As a result, the after-tax income of single parents receiving income support payments has plummeted since 2006.”

Link to report:

Key findings

  • From June 2000 to 2021, Australia’s median household income has grown by 45 % in real terms, and the minimum wage has risen by 23.5%.
  • Over the same period, the single Pension rose by 52%
  • For sole parents with a child under eight, their payments have risen by 27.2%, whilst the payments of those with children over eight rose by just 7.9% over the twenty year period.
  • JobSeeker Payment rose by 12% in real terms, almost entirely because of the $25pw increase to the base rate in April 2021 (there was a small increase in 2013 when the Energy Supplement was introduced). The last time the base rate of the payment was lifted above CPI was in 1994 when it rose by just $2.95pw.
  • The unemployment payment rate has fallen in comparison with the minimum wage since 2000 (from 50% down to 41% of replacement value), apart from the period when the Coronavirus Supplement was paid
  • The percentage of people receiving the lower unemployment payment who have a partial capacity to work (who may have previously been eligible for the DSP) has increased from 5% in 2007 to 33% in 2021
  • The percentage of sole parents receiving the lower unemployment payment JobSeeker has increased from 0% in 2000 to 28% in 2021.
  • The payment rate of the Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension is much higher than that of JobSeeker when compared with the minimum wage.


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