Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Unemployment and parenting income support payments , AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Unemployment and parenting income support payments . Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/unemployment-and-parenting-income-support-payments
Unemployment and parenting income support payments . Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/unemployment-and-parenting-income-support-payments
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Unemployment and parenting income support payments [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 29]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/unemployment-and-parenting-income-support-payments
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Unemployment and parenting income support payments , viewed 29 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/unemployment-and-parenting-income-support-payments
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Australia’s social security system, administered by the Department of Social Services, aims to support people who cannot, or cannot fully, support themselves, by providing targeted payments and assistance. When this payment is a person’s primary source of income it is called an ‘income support payment’ – a specific category of social security payments (see Income and income support for more information).
These payments are part of a larger network of labour market policies and services, designed to support individuals seeking further employment (see JobKeeper and employment services for more information). Note, that not all unemployed people will receive these unemployment payments as they may receive other income support payments or not meet eligibility requirements. It was estimated that recipients of unemployment payments accounted for just over 1 in 4 (28%) of those unemployed in 2017–18 (Parliamentary Library 2019).
For more information on unemployment and labour force participation, see Employment and unemployment.
This page examines the main income support payments for people aged 16 and over who are unable either to find work (unemployment payments) or to work full time (parenting payments). It presents information on those receiving:
Information on government expenditure on these payments is included in Welfare expenditure.
The main income support payments available to unemployed people (or those under the income and assets threshold) are:
On this page, recipients of unemployment payments are defined as those receiving Newstart Allowance/JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance (other), and does not include closed payments such as Newstart Mature Age Allowance.
Individuals receiving these payments are required to be looking for work or be engaged in activities that will help them find work in the future (such as volunteering or training) – unless they have a partial capacity to work (for more information see later on this page).
Before March 2020, this payment was the main income support payment for unemployed people aged 22 and over but under the Age Pension qualifying age (66.5 years on 1 July 2021).
In March 2020, this payment replaced Newstart Allowance, consolidating it with several other payments (such as Sickness Allowance and Bereavement Allowance). It is the main income support payment for unemployed people aged 22 and over but under the Age Pension qualifying age.
Youth Allowance (other)
This payment provides financial help to those aged 16–21 who are looking for work, temporarily unable to work, or undertaking approved activities. Qualifying for this payment is subject to a parental income test unless the young person is considered independent.
Parenting payments are paid in recognition of the impact that caring for young children 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.
Recipients aged under 16
A small number of recipients of unemployment and parenting payments are aged under 16 in March 2021: fewer than 5 for Youth Allowance (other) and 68 for PPS. These recipients are included in the numerator in calculating the proportion of recipients of unemployment and parenting payments aged 16 and over in the population, to ensure consistency in recipient numbers reported on this page.
For further information on the payment rates for each of these payments, see Social Security Guide – current rates.
This page does not include all work-related income support payments for people aged 16 and over – in particular, disability-related payments (see Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment for more information and Income and income support for an overview of income support payments).
As at 26 March 2021, 1.6 million people received an unemployment or parenting payment, equating to 7.9% of the population aged 16 and over. Of these:
Nearly all (98%) recipients of unemployment and parenting payments in March 2021 were aged between 16–64, equating to 9.7% of the population in that age group (7.7% for unemployment payments; 2.0% for parenting payments). Before June 2017, all recipients of these payments were aged under 65, reflecting the qualifying age for the Age Pension over this period (increased from 65 to 65.5 on 1 July 2017; see Age Pension for further details).
As noted earlier, to receive unemployment payments, most applicants are subject to mutual obligation requirements, such as looking for work or engaged in activities that will help them find work in the future (such as volunteering or training). However, where individuals have a reduced capacity to work of fewer than 30 hours per week due to an impairment but are not eligible for the Disability Support Pension, they may have reduced mutual obligation requirements. This affects payments such as the JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment Single and Youth Allowance (other) Payments.
Between June 2014 and June 2019, the proportion of JobSeeker (and previously Newstart Allowance) recipients who had a partial capacity to work was rising (from 26% to 42%); it dipped to 25% in June 2020 before gradually increasing to 32% in March 2021 and 36% in June 2021. The large drop in June 2020 reflects the short-term policy measures to the Jobseeker Payment in March 2020 (such as suspending mutual obligation requirements in 2020 during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic) that were then gradually re-introduced after August 2020.
In June 2020, the number of unemployment or parenting payment recipients was at its highest level in 2 decades – 1.9 million or 1 in 10 (9.5%) people aged 16 and over (Figure 1). This was driven by the large increase in recipient numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 765,400 recipients between March and June 2020 (see Impact of COVID-19 for further details).
Before March 2020, the number and proportion receiving these payments were declining – falling from 1.3 million in June 2001 to 1.1 million in June 2019, or from 8.5% to 5.3% of the population aged 16 and over.
Between June 2001 and June 2019, the number of recipients of:
However, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving unemployment payments remained around 4% for most of 2001–2019, except for dip to around 3% between 2005–2012.
For more information on the long-term trends for these payments, see ‘Chapter 3, Income support over the past 20 years’ of Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights, and Unemployment and parenting income support payments.
In late March 2020, the Australian Government introduced a range of economic support packages to offset the adverse impacts on the labour market of the measures it introduced to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus – widespread social distancing and other business related restrictions. These included the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement for working age income support recipients and short-term policy changes to the JobSeeker payment (such as waiving the assets tests, waiting periods, and mutual obligation requirements). These supplements and policy changes ended on the 31 March 2020.
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).
Between March 2020 and June 2020, the number of income support recipients rose by 861,000 people of which:
The number of unemployment and parenting payment recipients increased from 1.2 million in March 2020 to 1.9 million in June 2020 and then gradually declined to 1.6 million in March 2021 and further to 1.4 million in June 2021. The proportion of the population receiving these payments increased from 5.7% to 9.5% between March and June 2020 and then declined to 7.9% in March 2021 and to 6.9% in June 2021 (Figure 1).
The number of parenting payment recipients rose by 12% between March 2020 and June 2020, from 298,300 to 335,500; it then remained relatively stable to December 2020 (338,700) before gradually declining to 335,500 in March 2021 and falling further to 321,000 by June 2021. The number of recipients in June 2021 was still higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving parenting payments increased from 1.4% to 1.6% between March and June 2020 and remained at 1.6% to June 2021 (Figure 1).
Data on recipients of unemployment payments are available monthly over the period between 2019 and 2021 (as opposed to quarterly data for other income support payments). These data are sourced from JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance recipients – monthly profile.
The number of recipients of unemployment payments rose by 454,800 in April 2020 and by 289,900 in May 2020, reaching 1.64 million by May 2020. Numbers fell in most months since then to July 2021, with the largest monthly fall in April 2021 (120,100 fewer recipients between March and April 2021 or from 1.30 to 1.18 million, coinciding with the temporary changes to the JobSeeker Payment ending on the 31 March 2021, such as return to mutual obligation requirements). In July 2021, there were 1.09 million recipients of unemployment payments, just over 194,100 (or 22% higher) than in March 2020 (891,300).
The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving unemployment payments almost doubled between March and May 2020 (from 4.3% to 7.9%); it remained relatively stable between May and August 2020, before steadily declining to 5.3% in July 2021. Receipt of unemployment payments in July 2021 is still higher than pre-pandemic levels (4.3% of the population aged 16 and above in March 2020).
During 2020, receipt of these unemployment payments increased at a greater rate for some population groups than for others.
Between March and May 2020:
For all population groups, receipt of unemployment payments declined in the 12 months to June 2021 but was still higher than pre-pandemic levels in March 2020.
For further details on the impact on COVID-19 on the receipt of income support payments, see ‘Chapter 4, The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.
Reflecting the influence of life stages, nearly all (98%) of recipients of unemployment and parenting payments were aged 16–64 in March 2021 (Figure 2). Between these ages, the distribution of recipients varied by payment types.
As at 26 March 2021:
As at 26 March 2021, most parenting payment recipients were females (95% for PPS and 91% for PPP.
Of those receiving unemployment payments, 52% were males – 6.7% of males aged 16 and over compared with 5.9% of females of the same age (Figure 2).
As at 26 March 2021, 182,500 Indigenous Australians were receiving an unemployment or parenting payment – 34% of Indigenous Australians aged 16 and over received these payments compared with 7.0% for Other Australians. The corresponding proportions for unemployment payments were 25% and 5.7%, respectively; for parenting payments, 8.9% and 1.4%, respectively (Figure 2).
Note that Indigenous identification in most Centrelink and population data is voluntary. This may influence the quality and completeness of the data and subsequent reporting on the number and proportion of Indigenous Australians receiving income support payments, especially among older Indigenous Australians.
As at 26 March 2021, people aged 16 and over living in Very remote areas were 2.8 times as likely to be receiving an unemployment or parenting payment as those living in Major cities (20% compared with 7.3%). The corresponding proportions for unemployment payments were 15% and 5.9%; for parenting payments, they were 4.7% and 1.4% (Figure 2).
Means-tested arrangements are designed to ensure that income support targets those most in need, and that it reduces as recipients are more capable of providing for themselves. Recipients can earn a certain amount per fortnight before their income support 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).
As at 26 March 2021, for recipients of unemployment or parenting payments:
The proportion of unemployment or parenting payment recipients receiving a part-rate payment in March 2021 was relatively similar to that for previous years. However, the proportion of recipients of unemployment payments who declared earnings from employment declined between June 2019 and June 2020 (from 19% to 16%); it then gradually increased to March 2021(23%), higher than it was over the previous 5-year period:
These increases may reflect the growth in employment over this period as well as short-term policy changes made to these payments during 2020 (which ended on 31 March 2021), including increasing the income free area for these payments from September 2020.
As at 26 March 2021, almost 3 in 10 (28%) recipients of unemployment or parenting payments had been receiving income support for less than 1 year, a slightly higher proportion than in previous years (22% between 2017–2019).
How long recipients have been receiving income support differed by payment type as at March 2021:
Employment is tied closely with engagement with other activities, such as education and training. Hence, it is important to present income support payments available to support people studying or undertaking an apprenticeship when describing patterns in unemployment and parenting payments.
Individuals in receipt of student payments are most commonly young people aged 16–24, with 78% of recipients of all student payments in this age range as at March 2021. This section focuses on this age range.
Of young people aged 16–24 in receipt of income support payments, 37% received student payments, 45% unemployment payments and 8.4% parenting payments.
The main student payments for those aged 16–24 are Youth Allowance Student and Australian Apprentices, and ABSTUDY.
Youth Allowance Student and Youth Australian Apprentices: a means-tested payment for full-time students and Australian apprentices aged 16–24.
ABSTUDY (Living Allowance): a means-tested living allowance and range of supplementary benefits for eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students or apprentices who are in an approved course, Australian Apprenticeship or traineeship.
This page does not include information on all student payments and excludes ABSTUDY (Non-Living Allowance – a supplementary payment only) and Austudy (as the qualifying age for this payment starts at age 25).
Student payments are subject to other eligibility criteria, including personal, parental and partner income tests.
As at 26 March 2021, 200,700 people aged 16–24 received one of the following student payments – 194,300 received Youth Allowance (student and apprentice combined) and 6,400 received ABSTUDY (Living Allowance). This equates to 6.9% of the Australian population aged 16–24 receiving one of these student payments.
In March 2021, receipt of student payments among young people was 22% higher than in March 2020 (164,500) and 19% higher than in March 2019 (168,400). Following the business restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the number of student payment recipients increased by 34% (an additional 56,200 recipients or, in total, 220,700 recipients in June 2020) and then remained relatively steady to June 2021 (except for a fall in December 2020 reflecting semester terms and completion dates; Figure 3).
The proportion of the population aged 16–24 in receipt of student payments increased from 5.7% in March 2020 to 7.6% in June 2020 and then fell slightly to 6.9% by March 2021. This increase between May and June 2020 may have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and by young people continuing to study and delaying entry into the labour market due to unfavourable job market conditions.
Parliamentary Library 2019. Measuring overlap between the unemployed and people ‘on the dole’. Canberra: Parliamentary Library. Viewed 04 February 2021.
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