Changes to Australian income support settings during the COVID-19 pandemic

Author: Paul Ferlitsch (Department of Social Services secondee to Tax and Transfer Policy Institute)

This paper summarises the major changes made to unemployment, student and parenting transfer payments over 2020 and early 2021 in Australia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Major COVID-19 policy responses external to the transfer payment system are also summarised where these policies had a significant impact on the finances of income support payment recipients. Unprecedented numbers of individuals commenced and ceased receiving income support between March 2020 and April 2021, the initial period of COVID-19 in Australia here termed “the COVID-19 period”. In response to this demand unemployment payments were made easier to access and paid at a higher rate, and job search obligations for recipients were waived. Unemployment payment policy settings were generally progressively returned to pre-pandemic settings from September 2020 onwards. Temporary changes to student and parenting payments were also made, while payment settings for age and invalidity pensions saw comparatively fewer changes.

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