'Uncertainty scares me most': Sydney teacher forced to move out of her home due to JobSeeker cuts

Sahra is one of millions of Australians struggling to survive on the reduced JobSeeker payment. She's anxious about what will happen next.

Sahra* is one of millions of Australians who took a cut to their JobSeeker payments.

Sahra* is one of millions of Australians who took a cut to their JobSeeker payments. Source: PA Wire

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Sahra* was among the first workers in Australia to feel the strain.

The English teacher, from Sydney, had spent three years working at a teaching college for international students.

In December last year, she was warned her hours would be reduced because several students were postponing their bookings.

“By late January my hours had been cut to a third of what they were,” Sahra told SBS News. “I completely lost my main class.

“That continued until we went online during the first lockdown, and after a few weeks of that, I lost those last few hours in March.”

After effectively losing her job, Sahra’s workplace moved her onto the JobKeeper wage. The $1,500 per fortnight was enough for her to comfortably pay rent and other bills.

But in August, those payments stopped. Now struggling to find another teaching job, Sahra is on JobSeeker. The recent cuts meant she could no longer afford to pay the $230 per week rent on the two-bedroom apartment she shared, and had to move in with a relative, who fortunately lived in Sydney’s southeast.

“With the initial JobSeeker payment, I could have just paid my rent. With the cuts that’s just not possible anymore.”

Sahra acknowledged she had it luckier than many others, noting that not everyone in her situation has family in their home state.

But she remains anxious about what will happen next - so much so that she requested anonymity in speaking out, in case she eventually has no option but to re-apply for a job with the college that let her go.

“Looking forward, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere,” she said. “The economy is f**ked - I’m not sure how or when I will be able to get another teaching job.

“I’ve definitely had to cut corners to stay afloat - I don’t go out anymore. I’m not seeing friends. I basically just spending my money on essential groceries and my other bills.”

More than two million Australians took a $300 cut to their fortnightly welfare payments last week, as the federal government wound back coronavirus supplements.

The fortnightly coronavirus boost - announced to bolster welfare support during the coronavirus pandemic - applies to people receiving Jobseeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy and a number of other benefits.

On 25 September, the coronavirus payment was scaled back from $550 to $250 per fortnight. It is set to be removed entirely from 1 January next year.

The official unemployment rate fell from 7.5 per cent in July to 6.8 per cent in August.

The federal government defended scaling down the supplement payment, describing the move as a “transitioning down” of support.

The government has long said the supports were designed as a "temporary" measure in response to the challenges of the pandemic.

But in the meantime, people like Sahra remain anxious about their future.

“I think the critical element is the uncertainty. I don’t know what will happen next. People still don’t know if they’re going to get a job or not,” she said.

Asked what she plans to do over the next six months, Sahra was at a loss.

“My plan is I will be here until I can get a damn job.”

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

* Name has been changed at the subject’s request


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Published 6 October 2020 at 6:26am
By Gavin Fernando