Families need immediate cash boost to prepare for Omicron surge, poverty advocates warn

Poverty advocate groups are warning the Government that families need immediate cash boosts to prepare for the Omicron surge.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is urging the Government to take immediate steps to help families prepare for the surge in Omicron infections by bringing forward promised benefit increases. 

In May 2021, the Government announced a two-stage increase of benefit rates. The first increase on July 1 2021 saw all main benefits lifted by $20 per adult per week.

The second is due for April 1 2022 and will see all main benefits increase to levels recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group in 2019. Families with children get an additional top-up of $15 per adult a week.

As phase 2 of the country's Omicron response ramps up, the Government announced on Friday extra support for food banks and is asking families to prepare their households by purchasing essentials to support long isolation periods.

"We fully support the Government's approach to keeping families safe during this critical period, however, it is far from possible or feasible for many families to afford the basics today, let alone purchase additional food or medicine for a period of self-isolation", CPAG spokesperson Associate Professor Mike O'Brien says.

"Stocking up on food and medicine is not an option for many. Stocking today's pantry is a stretch as it is.

"Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said on Friday they have seen an 'over 60 percent increase in people with no existing MSD relationship needing support'. 

"This demonstrates that families simply do not have enough to meet their basic needs."

This increase in people needing support comes as significant demands are placed on foodbanks around the country and an increase in hardship grant applications to Work and Income.

"Our research shows that low-income families have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but it doesn't need to be this way," Professor O'Brien says.

"The Government showed during the pandemic that it can move quickly as seen with the COVID Income Relief Payment and business support packages. We are calling on the Government to move with the same speed to make sure all families have the dignity and security to secure the basics for their families to be able to isolate and keep themselves and others in the community safe."

CPAG says an easy place to start would be for the Government to immediately bring forward the promised increases to welfare support rather than waiting until April 1.