The Crisis Payment administered by Centrelink is so inadequate that some women are choosing to return to a violent relationship, rather than risk being homeless.
Whilst the welfare sector has welcomed the announcement by the Rudd Government to tackle homelessness in Australia, those working on the front line say a crucial first step in any plan would involve a significant increase in the Crisis Payment.
The Crisis Payment is a one-off payment made to those who:
- have experienced a natural disaster;
- are fleeing from domestic violence; or
- have recently been released from prison or a psychiatric facility.
The amount of the Crisis Payment is equal to half of the recipient’s normal fortnightly Centrelink pension or benefit. For a single person without dependent children, the rate of payment is currently $215. For pensioners and those with dependent children the amount granted is $268. In most cases, recipients have to live on this meagre amount of money for two weeks.
“We’ve spoken to people on the streets who have had this experience,” said Elizabeth Baraka, coordinator of the Homeless Persons Legal Service in Sydney. “Even Centrelink workers have told me that they have people in tears in front of them because they know that they will not be able to live on this amount.”
“The current payment doesn’t even provide people with enough money to stay in a shelter or other crisis accommodation,” Ms Baraka said in a recent telephone interview with Australian Women Online.
It costs about $17 a night for accommodation in a shelter, hostel, or refuge. And most people in crisis have little more than the clothes on their backs when they approach Centrelink for financial assistance. So at the current rate of Crisis Payment, a recipient would have very little left over for other basic necessities they need to buy after the costs of crisis accommodation is deducted.
Women fleeing from a domestic violence situation often leave with nothing and have to rely on charities for shoes, clothing, toiletries and other basic necessities for themselves and their children. But with charities under increasing pressure to maintain existing services with less funding, they are often not in a position where they can afford to provide these items for free. So how is a woman and her children suppose to survive after leaving a domestic violence situation?
It is a similar case for those affected by natural disasters. During natural disasters the pressure on charities is enormous and they just can’t afford to provide clothing and other essential items for everybody. The recovery teams do a fantastic job providing evacuation services and support. But after the immediate danger is over, individuals and families need money to spend on temporary accommodation, food, clothing and other essentials of daily living.
Prisoners are released from detention with very little personal effects which they have to purchase on discharge and their criminal history makes it harder for these individuals to obtain assistance and a little compassion from the community and welfare organisations.
“A whole lot more needs to be done in terms of providing support and services. But actual dollars need to be there as well to help people survive in that period,” said Ms Baraka.
“Otherwise people are forced to either return back to the domestic violence situation, or in the case of those just released from prison, it becomes much more attractive to reoffend when you can’t actually survive any other way.”
A spokeswoman from Centrelink told Australian Women Online, “Centrelink delivers payments, including the Crisis Payment, on behalf of other Government departments, and we don’t have any control over setting the rate of payment.”
Elizabeth Baraka says a minimum crisis payment equal to a full two week pension or benefit is needed to relieve the pressure on individuals, families and welfare organisations. But in those circumstances where the recipient has to start over with nothing, a crisis payment equal to four weeks of Centrelink pension or benefit would be more appropriate.
I asked Elizabeth Baraka for her thoughts on the recent announcement by the Rudd Government to develop a ten year plan to tackle homelessness in this country.
“It’s fantastic to have national leadership on this issue because it’s something we haven’t had before. It’s good to have long term planning because it is not a simple issue and I would be happy to be involved,” said Ms Baraka.
The government’s green paper on homelessness is due for release in mid-2008, with the white paper scheduled for release in August or September. But for those men, women and children facing financial hardship and homelessness on the streets of our cities and towns tonight, an increase in Centrelink’s Crisis Payment can’t come soon enough.