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Surviving the economic turmoil of coronavirus

Apr 6, 2020 • 14m 40s

What happens when everyone in a household loses work because of coronavirus? Today we look at the human cost of unemployment and what the government is doing to help people survive.

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Surviving the economic turmoil of coronavirus

197 • Apr 6, 2020

Surviving the economic turmoil of coronavirus

RUBY:

Testing, testing my mic, ok that seems to work.

So I'm in my backyard at the moment and I'm just about to walk over to the fence to say hi to my neighbours.

NEIGHBOUR:

Hi.

RUBY:

Hi! [Laughs] I'll be one moment.

There's five of them who live next door and all of them have been impacted by the outbreak of Covid 19. Every single one of them has lost some of their income. Some of them have lost all of their income.

So I've just got a mike on a boom and we're gonna hoist it across the fence and into their backyard so that we can talk to them from a safe distance.

[Mic sounds]

Archival tape -- Conversation:

The mic there... do you want to just angle it so it's pointing more towards you?

This way? Yeah. Yeah.

Or should we just just stand up?

Yeah. You would be that kind of distance away from it.

Done.

We are ready to roll.

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Millions of Australians are facing unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today - the reality of suddenly losing your job, and whether the government’s response will be enough.

JOHN:

So my name is John. I'm 33 and I'm a lighting guy and DJ for nightclubs and festivals and stuff.

MIGUEL:

Hi, I'm Miguel. I am 20 and I study music, perform music and teach music.

RUBY:

And so what's it been like in your house for the past few weeks?

JOHN:

It's been a bit tense.I sort of became unemployed straight away. So it's been a bit rough, but yeah.

MIGUEL:

Yeah, I, uh, we all kind of lost our jobs pretty much straight away working in events, hospitality and arts.

RUBY:

So tell me about how it happened. Who was the first person in your house to lose their job and how did that news kind of move through the house?

JOHN:

It was pretty much me and you [Miguel]. Yeah. Yeah. Like I mean, I work every single weekend. The nightclubs and serials like gathering's limited to five hundred people saw huge dip in numbers. One hundred people. That's it. Don't need the lighting guy for it. It's pretty much straight away for me.

RUBY:

Are you able to estimate how much of your income is gone because of this?

JOHN:

Oh zero.

RUBY:

Like all of it?

JOHN:

Yeah, pretty much. So I work events and stuff.

So it's like the industry is completely destroyed at the moment. So everyone I talked to in the industry, they’re just like, there's no hope for him. Basically, yeah. It just means like, you know, a lot of people have to change careers in the end so it’s just like zero income from it anymore.

MIGUEL:

I was ready going week to week. So I wasn't really earning much I was just earning enough to get by.

RUBY:

So how has all of this impacted your financial situation in terms of the basic stuff like paying rent and that sort of thing?

JOHN:

We're all fucking broke.

MIGUEL:

Yeah, it's a bit insecure.. And so yeah, definitely the uncertainty of how long our savings can last us, though we do have those new supplementary packages. But even still that it's very unknown.

RUBY:

So the government has announced a boost in welfare to help people who are in your position. Have any of you applied for that?

JOHN:

Yeah. So I applied for the job seeker payment and with the recent wage subsidies, so through my employer, you know, I get a bit more money out of it. But, you know, I would like to work in the end, you know? Yeah. just a bit dull sitting around at home doing nothing at the moment.

RUBY:

And have you heard about the freeze on evictions?

JOHN:

We have heard that the moratorium haven't spoken our landlords or anything about it yet, you know, they'll probably be dealing with like hundreds of cases at the moment. Sure, some will happen, but yeah.

MIGUEL:

Yeah, I think a discussion for the coming future. I think all of us, at least for the next few months, have been able to stay secure enough, but cut our rent in half maybe?

RUBY:

At the same time as my neighbours were going through this... The Saturday Paper’s political correspondent Karen Middleton was working on a story about the government’s pretty significant new economic policies.

[Phone ring]

KAREN:

Hello?

RUBY:

Hey Karen, it's Ruby.

KAREN:

Hi Ruby, how are you?

RUBY:

I’m good, how are you going?

KAREN:

Not too bad, thanks.

RUBY:

Karen, can you talk me through some of the measures that have been put in place to help renters who might have lost their income?

KAREN:

Well, it's a work in progress. The problem the Government's got is that this is a wickedly difficult issue. It's it's renters in in home renting, in residential renting and also people with commercial rent. And the government is trying to look after both ends of that equation.

They have introduced a six month moratorium on evictions, but the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has also said he really wants people to get together and work this out. So he's putting it on the property owner and the tenant to negotiate and work something out.

I am aware, though, in recent days of some pretty tough letters going out from property owners to tenants about... that they will be expected to pay eventually, that this is not just free rent with no consequences, that they may have to repay the rent later.

And there's also concern on the part of those property owners that some people will try and scam this arrangement.. So it's pretty complicated. And every time the government makes a decision like this, they find it has a consequence that they may not have been expecting.

So they're playing Whac-A-Mole effectively with the whole economy. They make a decision, they implement it. They find what the knock on effect may be. They have to negotiate and try and work out a solution to that. It may or may not have another knock on effect. And so it goes.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Karen I want to talk to you about some of the other initiatives the government has announced to limit the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown, on people who have lost their jobs, or are at risk of losing them.

KAREN:

Well, there are a couple of things.

First up, the job seeker payment, which is actually what we know as Newstart, which they've renamed in the middle of all this chaos, and that is basically the unemployment benefit. But with the supplement on top of it for people who've lost their jobs during the Covid 19 crisis. So that is a $550 supplement per fortnight. It's a gross amount. It sort of almost doubles what a single would normally get under Newstart.

Now the young people, the students who were working were added sort of belatedly after negotiations over who could get it and who couldn't. The Labor opposition said that a lot of students had part time jobs and were initially not going to be eligible for the supplement. The government relented and included them. So it's an interesting process where there's a lot of back and forth and usual ideologies are being set aside and people are listening to each other's ideas and where they're good, they're implementing them.

RUBY:

So that’s the job seeker allowance, Karen, can you talk me through the job keeper payments, how are they different?

KAREN:

Yes. So that is designed for people to still have a connection to their employer if they've actually been sacked. They'll be looking for the job seeker allowance, the one through Centrelink, the old Newstart payment. But if they've just been stood down, they will be eligible for job keeper. Now, that is going to be $1500 gross a fortnight. It's a flat payment. It's available to anyone who was full time or part time or casual, whose work had been connected to their job for at least 12 months prior.

Now, the key date is March the 1st. If you were in any of those situations on March the 1st and you've been stood down or you end up being stood down in the near future, you can qualify via your employer for that.

We did see an estimate, which is kind of a scary one, of six million people accessing that. Now, the government's been quick to say that that doesn't mean 6 million Australians will lose their jobs, but it obviously does mean that 6 million people would be at risk of losing their jobs if not for this supplement.

So there are still some people who miss out, and that's a potential problem.

RUBY:

Mmm. Who are the people who will miss out?

KAREN:

There are people on temporary visas who don't qualify. So some do. The New Zealanders who are on the subclass 4:44 visa will now access that wage subsidy if they are working in Australia, but other temporary visa holders won't. So if they're in Australia working on a temporary visa, they've lost their work that they don't qualify for benefits. Many of them can't go home because there's no way of getting home. They probably can't afford to go home either. Where home is overseas and they're stuck.

RUBY:

And Karen, do we know how many people are on temporary working visas who might fall through these cracks?

KAREN:

Yes, more than a million. I think 1.1 million people are on temporary working visas. Some of them have been here for a long time. Some of them are pursuing residency or citizenship. Some of them are here for a short time. But there's an argument that Australia has a moral obligation to these people, a duty of care, and that it isn't going to be good for the country. Generally speaking, if those people are left destitute because they can't get any sort of income support.

RUBY:

Karen these are huge changes. How are they happening and how are they happening so fast?

KAREN:

Those negotiations between the federal government and the state and territory governments, between employers and unions, involving political opponents, conservative and progressive, left and right are actually achieving an incredible amount of change.

And we're also seeing a remarkable thing from a conservative government. All the things that they have long held dear are having to be jettisoned. They're having to become a big government, interventionist government running up enormous national debt. They can't go for this surplus anymore. That just seems like pie in the sky. If we go back to the period where just a couple of weeks ago they were talking about a stimulus with some extra money for the low paid and trying to save us from going into a technical recession. I mean, that just seems like a. Ridiculous concept now because we're talking way worse than that.

But at the moment, it's a government working with all its got and with everyone's input to try and address this problem and keep people from really struggling more than they need to through a terrible disaster.

RUBY:

Karen, thanks so much for talking to me today.

KAREN:

Thanks, Ruby.

RUBY:

And tell me a little bit more about as a house of 5 people, this is all kind of working on a practical level for you all.

MIGUEL:

We're all slowly going insane. Some more than others, usually because we work in events and things and hospitality we usually like out of the house.

Especially on weekends, usually no one around the house on the weekends now was all sitting around just hanging out. Some people are going more crazy than others, but I think we are having a good time otherwise.

JOHN:

I’m trying to find as many positives as I can. Personally it just helps keeping a level head and during such a weird situation.

RUBY:

How do you feel about the next few weeks and months?

JOHN:

I have no idea. Like I said it yesterday, like February feels like a year ago. It's just been just like chaos. So, I dunno. Let's do it.

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In one share-house, all five housemates have lost work because of the coronavirus shutdown. Today we look at the human cost of unemployment and what the government is doing to help people survive.

Guest: Chief Political Correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton.

Background reading:

The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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197: Surviving the economic turmoil of coronavirus