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90 Percent Of Young People Can't Afford Enough Food On Welfare

Young people are struggling to buy medicine, textbooks and food because their welfare payments are too low, with many surviving on just $14 a day.

Social services are calling for an increase to the Newstart allowance after new statistics reveal youths on welfare payments struggle with mental health, rent, food security and education.

Young people who are studying or unemployed generally receive Youth Allowance, Newstart or Austudy/Abstudy depending on their age.

While the rate for each payment differs, Newstart recipients who are single and without children receive $559 a fortnight. Adult singles on Youth Allowance who don't have children and live away from home receive $455.20 a fortnight.

These rates are less than a third of the minimum wage, according to the 'Starved Of Opportunity' survey conducted by The National Union of Students (NUS), Young Campaigns and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).

They say the Newstart and Youth Allowance payments need to be raised by a minimum of $75 per week to lift recipients out of food poverty and rent stress.

People on Newstart and Youth Allowance struggle to buy food and pay for education. Image: Getty Images.
Food And Housing Security

The survey gathered responses from 862 participants on either Newstart or Youth Allowance, finding 62 percent had less than $100 left per week after paying rent. This means that nearly two-thirds of people surveyed live on $14 a day.

More than half of respondents (51.1 per cent) also admitted to couch surfing or living in other types of unstable housing because they were unable to afford rent.

Image: Starved of Opportunity Survey

Hobart was named Australia's least affordable rental city in a report released on Wednesday. The Rental Affordability Index revealed households with even an average income in Tasmania's capital would be under financial stress, and potentially have to forgo food and bills to make ends meet.

The most-affordable capital for a single person on the allowance is Adelaide, but the Index said they will spend at least 77 per cent of their earnings on rent. That figure balloons to an impossible 135 per cent in greater Sydney.

Hobart, Tasmania is the least affordable capital in Australia to rent. Image: Getty Images.

"The evidence is utterly compelling, the deeply inadequate Newstart rate is a driver of homelessness," said Conny Lenneberg, director of not-for-profit charity Brotherhood of St Laurence.

More than one-fifth of youths surveyed for the Starved of Opportunity research said they skipped at least one meal each day to save money, with 30 per cent forgoing as many as six meals a week to save on cash.

Nearly 90 percent admitted to skipping at least one meal a week.

"I don't have enough money so I couch surf so that way I get at least one meal a day," a 19-year-old on Youth Allowance told researchers for the survey.

Education

A whopping 80 per cent of people aged between 16-30 said they struggled to afford textbooks and education course fees on Youth Allowance and Newstart.

Issues with money also led to 35 per cent of students withdrawing from their studies because they were unable to afford it.

Image: Starved of Opportunity Survey.
Mental Health

The survey also revealed the widespread impact struggling with money can have on social and mental wellbeing.

Ninety per cent of survey respondents also agreed the low Newstart and Youth Allowance payments impacted their mental health.

Image: Starved of Opportunity Survey

An incredible 92 percent of people said they felt isolated by the low payment rate, where they felt unable to participate in social events as they didn't have enough money.

Nearly three-quarters said they struggled to pay for drug prescriptions, see specialists, or visit the dentist.

“We are hearing stories of young people skipping their antidepressants and birth control because they can’t afford it on Youth Allowance," said Cat Nadel from YOUNG Campaigns.

"It is physically impossible to live a normal, healthy life on these low payments."

Raising Newstart

NUS and ACOSS are calling for welfare payments to be raised by $75 a week ($150 a fortnight) and survey respondents said this would have a profound impact on their lives.

"I would be able to eat everyday, buy my medications," a 21-year-old respondent told researchers.

“I could afford more food. Possibly go out and be social more, and maybe see a psychologist more,” a second 21-year-old said.

The federal opposition has also called for the government to raise the payment. Labor leader Anthony Albanese attacked the government's catchphrase "the best form of welfare is a job" on Wednesday.

Raising Newstart would have a profound impact on the lives of recipients. Photo: AAP

While speaking at an Australian Council of Social Service event in Canberra, he said poverty is an intergenerational issue in Australia and raising the Newstart payment could start to ease this.

"Poverty holds our nation back. It creates stress, anxiety and hopelessness," Albanese said.

"We are all diminished when kids in Australia are turning up at school hungry, or not turning up at all because they hate feeling like they're different. It's untapped potential."

He also defended Australians on welfare payments, saying that many desire work but are unable to obtain it.

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese supports raising Newstart. Image: AAP.

"It's not that they aren't having a go -- it's more that the odds are stacked against them," Albanese said.

With AAP.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au