In late March 2020, the Australian Government introduced short-term policy measures to protect those whose income was adversely affected by the shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement provided additional support to new and existing recipients of unemployment payments and a number of other income support payments. For selected payments, such as the JobSeeker Payment, short-term policy changes were made, which included waiving the asset tests, waiting periods, and the obligation to actively seek work.
For further details see ‘Chapter 4, The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.
Reliance on income support increased steeply following the introduction of social distancing and business-related restrictions in March 2020, it then gradually declined from June 2020, but in mid-2021 was still higher than in March 2020 (Figure 2):
- The steepest increases in income support recipients occurred between March and June 2020, with 861,000 additional recipients (from 5.0 million to 5.8 million, or a 17% increase)
- Between June 2020 and March 2021, the number of recipients has been steadily declining, with 305,800 fewer recipients over this period. This downward trend reflects the easing of restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2021 recipient numbers were still 11% higher (an additional 555,200 recipients or 5.54 million recipients in total) than in March 2020. While recipient numbers continued to fall between March and June 2021 (186,700 fewer recipients or 5.35 million recipients in total), the number of recipients in June 2021 was still 7.4% higher than in March 2020.
The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving income support payments rose from 24% to 28% between March 2020 and June 2020; it fell slightly to 27% in March 2021 but remained above the pre-pandemic levels in March 2020.
The rate of increase in income support recipients varied by payment type. Most (85% or 728,200) of this overall increase in recipient numbers between March and June 2020 was due to an increase in those receiving unemployment payments (Figure 2).
Over this 3-month period, the number of recipients of:
- unemployment payments rose by 82% (from 886,200 to 1.6 million, or from 4.3% to 7.8% of the population aged 16 and over)
- student payments rose by 32% (from 210,200 to 276,700, or from 1.0% to 1.3% of the population aged 16 and over)
- parenting payments rose by 12% (from 298,300 to 335,500, or from 1.4% to 1.6%), with this increase largely driven by a 36% increase in the receipt of the Parenting Payment Partnered, from 67,600 to 92,000.
By March 2021, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving unemployment payments was 6.3%, student payments 1.2% and parenting payments 1.6%.
The number of recipients of Age Pension and disability-related payments (Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment) remained relatively stable over 2020, while recipients of other payments declined due to the closure of some small payments.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the receipt of particular payment types, see Unemployment and parenting income support payments, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment and Age Pension.
As at 26 March 2021, there were 1.4 million FTB A recipients and 1.1 million FTB B recipients receiving FTB through fortnightly instalments. The majority of recipients (80%) are eligible for both FTB A and FTB B. As well, a large proportion (47%) also received an income support payment (based on previously unpublished data from Department of Social Services).
In the 6 years to March 2021, the receipt of FTB has been declining. Between March 2015 and March 2021, the number of:
- FTB A recipients fell from 1.5 million to 1.4 million.
- FTB B recipients fell from 1.3 million to 1.1 million.
During 2020, receipt of FTB remained relatively steady. This suggests that the business-related restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic had a minimal impact on the number of people receiving this benefit.
There was, however, a large increase in the number of FTB recipients also receiving a qualifying income support payment for the Coronavirus Supplement, particularly JobSeeker Payment, consistent with the steep initial increase in unemployment payment recipients in the early months of 2020, as reported earlier.
Unpublished data from the Department of Social Services indicate that:
- between April and May 2020, there was:
- an 11% increase overall in the number of FTB children whose parents received FTB and an income support payment that qualified for the Coronavirus Supplement (an additional 114,100 children, or from 1.0 million to 1.1 million)
- a 21% increase (from 414,000 to 500,300) in the number of FTB children whose parents received FTB and the JobSeeker Payment.
- between May 2020 and August 2020, the number of FTB children increased slightly and then declined to March 2021.
- as at 26 March 2021, the number of FTB children whose parents received FTB and an income support payment that qualified for the Coronavirus Supplement was 1.1 million, which was 4.9% higher than in April 2020 (an additional 50,200 children).
For more information on household income, see Household income and wealth, Australia.
For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Household income and wealth, Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 18 June 2021.
ABS 2021a. Wage Price Index, Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 June 2021.
ABS 2021b. Weekly payroll jobs and wages in Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 1 July 2021.
Biddle N & Gray M 2021. Tracking wellbeing outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2021): continued social and economic recovery and resilience. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020a. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (May 2020): job and income losses halted and confidence rising. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020b. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (August 2020): divergence within Australia. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020c. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (November 2020): counting the costs of the COVID-recession. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.