Many Australians require government welfare assistance to meet their everyday costs of living. When these payments are a person’s primary source of income they are called an ‘income support payment’, which is a category of social security payments. Australian social security payment policy is administered by the Department of Social Services, and income support payments are delivered by the Department of Human Services, through its network of Centrelink offices. Payments are targeted to individuals who do not have the means to support themselves.

These payments support people unable to work or find work. In addition to financial assistance, the requirements of these payments—such as actively looking and preparing for work—aim to build a person’s capacity to support themselves and encourage self-reliance. They are an important part of a larger network of services and assistance, designed to improve the wellbeing of Australians (see Employment services for more information).

This page focuses on people aged 18–64 years receiving the main unemployment and parenting income support payments. Data are sourced from the Department of Human Services administrative data. Information on government expenditure on these payments is covered in Welfare expenditure.

As at 29 June 2018, 1.1 million people aged 18–64­­ received an unemployment or parenting payment, equating to 7.3% of the population aged 18–64­­. Of these:

  • 71%, or 802,600, received an unemployment payment—717,000 for Newstart Allowance and 85,600 for Youth Allowance (other). This represents 5.2% of the population aged 18–64.
  • 29% or 325,700 received a parenting payment—243,400 for Parenting Payment Single (PPS) and 82,300 for Parenting Payment Partnered (PPP). This represents 2.1% of the population aged 18–64.

In late June 2018, 10,600 Newstart Allowance recipients were aged 65, reflecting the increase in the qualifying age for the Age Pension to 65.5 from 1 July 2017 (see Income support payments for older people). 

Main unemployment and parenting income support payments

Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other) are the main income support payments for unemployed people of workforce age, while they look for work or participate in approved activities that may increase their chances of finding a job.

Newstart Allowance is paid to people aged 22 or over but less than Age Pension age.

Youth Allowance (other) is paid to people aged 16–21 who are seeking or preparing for paid employment. Certain 15 year olds, including those who are homeless, may also receive assistance. Youth Allowance (other) recipients considered dependent are subject to a parental income test. Data on this page do not include recipients aged 15–17.

Parenting payment is the main income support payment available to people with sole or primary responsibility of a young child. It provides a safety net for parents who might otherwise be at risk of hardship. Parenting payment is paid in recognition of the impact caring for a young child can have on a parent’s capacity to undertake full-time employment. Only one parent or guardian can be the principal carer, and receive the payment.

Single parents may be eligible for PPS until their youngest child turns eight. Single parents must satisfy part‑time mutual obligation requirements of 30 hours per fortnight once their youngest child turns six (unless exempt). Partnered parents may be eligible for PPP until their youngest child turns six.

This page does not include all working-age income support payments for people aged 18–64, in particular recipients with disability or caring for people with disability (see Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment for more information).

Trends

Overall, both the number and proportion of people aged 18–64 receiving an unemployment or parenting payment decreased over the last 2 decades. Between 2001 and 2018, the:

  • number of recipients fell by 11%, from 1.3 million in 2001 to 1.1 million in 2018, with a low of 930,700 in 2008
  • proportion of the population aged 18–64 receiving unemployment or parenting  payments fell by 3 percentage points, from 10% in 2001 to 7.3% in 2018, with a low of 6.9% in 2008 (Figure 1).

These overall trends were largely driven by recipients of unemployment payments (Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other)), given that they account for the largest proportion of recipients receiving an unemployment or parenting payment.

Notable variations were observed in the trends for specific payments. Between 2001 and 2018, the number of recipients of parenting payments (PPP and PPS) aged 18–64 fell steadily from 619,600 to 325,700 (5.1% to 2.1% of the population aged 18–64).

Unemployment payments increased from 645,000 in 2001 to 802,600 in 2018 (24% increase), with a low of 446,700 in 2008 and a peak of 851,400 in 2015. As a proportion of the population aged 18–64, this equates to proportions remaining relatively flat overall between 2001 and 2018 (5.3% and 5.2% respectively), with some fluctuations from a low of 3.3% in 2008 to a high of 5.7% in 2015. ­

See Chapter 3 Income support over the past 20 years in Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights for more information on long-term trends.

Age

The age profile of people aged 18–64 receiving unemployment or parenting payments varies by payment types. This reflects the influence of life stages (Figure 2). As at 29 June 2018, for:

  • parenting payment recipients (PPS and PPP), 67% were aged 25–39 and 16% aged 18–24
  • unemployment payment recipients, 31% were aged 50–64, 28% 25–39 and 19% aged 18–24
    • when accounting for the size of the population in each age group, the proportion receiving unemployment payments was highest for those aged 18–24 (6.3%) and lowest for those aged 25–39 (4.1%, Figure 2).
  • young people aged 18–24 were 19 times as likely to be receiving student payments as those aged 25–64, reflecting that young people are more likely to be studying or undertaking apprenticeships than those in older age groups.

Overview of study-related income support payments for people aged 18–24

A range of Centrelink payments are available to support people studying or undertaking an apprenticeship administered through the Department of Human Services. The main student payments for those aged 18–24 are Youth Allowance (Student), Youth Allowance (Australian Apprentices) and ABSTUDY. Another student payment, Austudy, is excluded from this section because the qualifying age of the payment starts from 25 years.

Youth Allowance Student (YAS) and Youth Australian Apprentices (YAA): This is a means-tested payment for full-time students (YAS) and Australian Apprentices (YAA) aged 16–­24.

ABSTUDY: This is a means-tested living allowance and range of supplementary benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and apprentices aged 16 and over.

As at 29 June 2018, 172,300 people aged 18–24­­ received one of these student payments (168,000 YAS and YAA combined, and 4,300 ABSTUDY). This equates to 7.3% of the Australian population aged 18–24­­.

Females aged 18–24 were 1.4 times as likely to be receiving study-related payments as males—8.6% compared with 6.0% respectively.

Overall, the number of student payment recipients aged 18–24 declined by 6.1% over the last 18 years—from 183,400 in 2001 to 172,300 in 2018. Similarly, the proportion of those aged 18–24 receiving student payments declined from 10% in 2001 to 7.3% in 2018.

When considering all people aged 18–64 who received any student payment (YAS, YAA, ABSTUDY and Austudy), people aged 18–24 accounted for 77% of recipients.

Sex

The vast majority of parenting payment recipients aged 18–64 were women (95% for PPS and 90% for PPP), as at 29 June 2018 (Figure 2).

Of those receiving unemployment payments (aged 18–64), the number of men and women receiving the payment was relatively similar (men accounted for 51%). When accounting for population size, 5.3% of men aged 18–64 received unemployment payments compared with 5.1% of women.

Indigenous Australians

As at 29 June 2018, 136,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 18–64 were receiving unemployment or parenting payments. This equates to 31% of the Indigenous population aged 18–64 receiving these payments, compared with 6.5% for Other Australians (21% compared with 4.7% for unemployment payments and 10% compared with 1.9% for parenting payments respectively, Figure 2).

After taking into account the differences in the age structures of Indigenous and Other Australians, Indigenous Australians were 4.5 times as likely as Other Australians to have received unemployment or parenting income support payments (4.5 times as high for unemployment payments and 4.7 times for parenting payments). The disparity between Indigenous and Other Australians was particularly high for PPS, with Indigenous Australians 5.3 times as likely to be receiving PPS as Other Australians.

Remoteness area

As at 29 June 2018, people aged 18–64 living in Very remote areas were almost 3 times as likely to be receiving unemployment or parenting payments as those living in Major cities (18% compared with 6.1% respectively). The corresponding proportions for unemployment payments were 13% and 4.4%. For parenting payments it was 5.2% and 1.8% respectively (Figure 2).

Earning an income while receiving income support

Means-tested arrangements are designed to ensure that income support is targeted to those most in need and that support reduces as recipients are more capable of providing for themselves. Recipients can earn a certain amount per fortnight before their payment is slowly reduced to a part-rate payment. Income support recipients are required to report income from all sources (including work, investments and/or substantial assets). 

For recipients aged 18–64 receiving unemployment or parenting payments, as at 29 June 2018:

  • almost 1 in 4 (23%) received a part-rate payment
  • more than 1 in 5 (21%) declared earnings (20% of unemployment payment recipients, 27% of PPS recipients and 10% of PPP recipients). 

Duration on income support

As at 29 June 2018, almost 2 in 3 (64%) unemployment or parenting income support recipients aged 18–64 had been receiving income support for 2 or more years.

Unemployment payments: 25% of recipients on these payments had received income support for less than 1 year, 26% for 2 to less than 5 years, and 34% for 5 or more years (including 15% for 10 or more years).

Parenting payments: 24% of recipients on these payments had received income support for less than 2 years, and 45% for 5 or more years (including 16% for 10 or more years). PPS recipients tended to stay on income support payments longer than PPP recipients—48% of PPS recipients had received income support for 5 or more years compared with 37% for PPP.

Remaining on the same payment: Around half (50%) of unemployment or parenting income support recipients aged 18–64 at 29 June 2018 had been in receipt of this payment for less than 2 years, including 30% for less than 1 year. For unemployment payments, 34% had been in receipt of this payment for less than 1 year, 20% for 1 to less than 2 years and 28% for 2 to less than 5 years. Recipients of parenting payments tend to stay on the same payment longer than those receiving unemployment payments. The corresponding proportions for recipients of parenting payments at 29 June 2018 were 20%, 19% and 37% respectively. 

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Recipients of unemployment or parenting payments, people aged 18–64, 2001 to 2018

The number and proportion of 18-64 year olds receiving unemployment or parenting payments has fallen over the last 2 decades. The number of male recipients declined overall from 503,900 in 2001 to 427,500 in 2018, corresponding with a fall in both unemployment and parenting payment recipients. The number of female recipients fell from 760,700 in 2001 to 700,800 in 2018. This was driven by a fall in parenting payment recipients, counteracting a rise in unemployment recipients.

Figure 2: Proportion of people aged 18–64 receiving unemployment or parenting payments, by sex, age, Indigenous status and remoteness area, as at 29 June 2018

At 29 June 2018, 7.3% of the Australian population aged 18-64 years were receiving unemployment or parenting payments. The proportion was higher for women (9%) than men (5.5%), decreased with age (from 8.5% to 5.8% between age groups 18-24 and 50-64), was highest for those living in Very remote areas (18%), and for Indigenous Australians (31% compared with 6.5% Other Australians).