Young Australians left in Poverty

The National Union of Students released a report into student poverty last week, which found thousands of young people aged 18-21 are being left in poverty due to an Australian welfare system that doesn’t cater to them.

The report, prepared in partnership with the Foundation for Young Australians, makes a series of recommendations, including lowering the age of independence to access Centrelink from 22 to 18, and for Youth Allowance to be raised above the poverty line to at least $88 per day. 

‘Right now, the Australian Government’s Centrelink system provides essential income support for people over 22, but is failing thousands of 18-21-year-olds denied access to financial support,’ the NUS said. 

‘All young people should be able to study with a safety net to pay for rent, books, and food.’ 

The report is based on a survey of 673 current and former students impacted by the Centrelink age of independence rule and payment rates in 2022. 

The report also includes some data from the Department of Education. 

The report found that living in poverty has a range of negative effects on students’ lives, such as being a key contributing fact to housing unavailability and incidents of domestic violence, as well as heightening the risk of developing depression and other mental illnesses. 

Of students who were unable to access Youth Allowance, 60% noted that this had a negative impact on their academic achievement, 35% said that it impacted their job prospects, and 23% noted a negative impact on their physical health. 

NUS President Georgie Beatty spoke out about the Australian welfare system to Honi Soit. 

‘The biggest barrier to higher education at the moment is this welfare system that doesn’t support students,’ Beatty said. 

Other forms of structural inequality intersect with poverty, and the report found LGBTQIA+ students and students with a disability are excluded from Youth Allowance at heavily disproportionate rates. 

The report’s recommendations include: 

  • The Government should lower the age of independence to 18 from 22, and raise student social security payments above the poverty line, to at least $88 per day 
  • Centrelink payments should be indexed to the cost of living (in line with the indexation of the Age Pension), and Commonwealth Rent Assistance should be raised to reflect current rental prices. 
  • Junior employee pay rates should be abolished, as they entrench age-based discrimination and force people under 22 years of age to work below their award rate. 
  • The Disability Support Pension should be reviewed and additional studies into international student poverty should be funded. 

The NUS also told Honi Soit that they are, ‘planning to continue this campaign’ and that they ‘hope for more from the Labor government.’ 

Click here to read more about the NUS’ ‘Change the Age’ campaign. 

Tom Loudon
Tom Loudon

Tom (he/him) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and the Editor in Chief at Glass Media. He has a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts (Creative Writing) and is currently studying Communications (Journalism) at QUT.

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