Skipping meals and couch-surfing: the grim reality of life on Newstart


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Students on Youth Allowance and Newstart are living on the breadline, skipping meals and couch surfing just to get by.

An Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) survey of 892 people aged 16-30 found:

  • More than 60% of respondents have less than $14 a day left after rent;
  • More than half have couch-surfed or used other unstable forms of accommodation;
  • More than nine in 10 people skip meals;
  • And more than one-third have withdrawn from their studies because of a lack of funds.

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Newstart provides recipients with $40 a day. Youth Allowance is even less at $32.50 each day.

"It is unacceptable that any young person on these payments is forced to couch surf or sleep on the streets. Newstart and Youth Allowance are supposed to be safety nets that allow us to focus on our studies or on finding paid work. Instead it is holding us in poverty," says Cat Nadel from YOUNG Campaigns.

"We are hearing stories of young people skipping their antidepressants and birth control because they can't afford it on Youth Allowance."

Financial hardship is also taking a toll on social and mental wellbeing. Ninety-two per cent of participants said the low rate of payments makes them feel isolated, while the same amount said it negatively impacts their mental health.

The findings come amid calls for the government to lift Youth Allowance and Newstart by at least $75 per week.

"It is physically impossible to live a normal, healthy life on these low payments. That's why so many young people are standing up and sharing our stories," says Nadel.

"We're calling on the government to #RaiseTheRate."

In July Prime Minister Scott Morrison stonewalled calls to raise Newstart, declaring the government would not engage in "unfunded empathy".

"Financial counsellors regularly see people who stop eating regularly to try to meet all their required payments, including rent and their gas and electricity bills," says Elizabeth Minter of Financial Counselling Australia, a supporter of the #RaisetheRate campaign.

The financial hardships facing young people often aren't born of money mismanagement.

"Young people don't get into debt because they have bought the latest widescreen TV, eating expensive brunches, or because they can't manage money. They get into debt because income support payments are too low and are not enough to cover basic daily living expenses," says Minter .

"One of the fundamental causes of financial hardship is that people can't make ends meet on Newstart."

If you are experiencing financial difficulty, you can speak to a free, independent financial counsellor in your state or territory by visiting the National Debt Helpline website or calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

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David Thornton was a journalist at Money from September 2019 to November 2021. He previously worked at Your Money, covering market news as producer of Trading Day Live. Before that, he covered business and finance news at The Constant Investor. David holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of Melbourne.