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Australians on youth allowance who’ve lost work because of lockdowns say they’re only scraping by and are considering stopping their welfare payments because receiving them makes them ineligible for the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency payments.

With more than 10 million Australians now in lockdown, Prime Minister Scott Morrison expanded the disaster payment to provide $600 and $375 to workers from the second week of lockdown. 

However, workers who receive income payments already are excluded. JobSeeker recipients who had lost work told Crikey they were struggling to make ends meet because they had immediately lost income but got no additional support from the government. 

No group of welfare recipients has been more affected by this decision than those receiving the youth allowance. In March 2021, 112,971 youth allowance recipients — a third of the total number of Australians receiving this payment — reported some income in the past two weeks. Younger workers are also disproportionately represented in retail and hospitality sectors and employed on a casual basis, meaning lockdowns are more likely to affect them.

Aimee Henry is a student at the University of Wollongong who’s been receiving youth allowance payments and has lost work at her casual job in a clothing store. Her youth allowance payment just covers her rent, andher pay from work covers her bills, groceries and other expenses.

“Since I’m on significantly reduced hours (one three-hour shift a fortnight, essentially), I’ve been relying on the small amount of savings I have and just forgoing things that aren’t super-essential,” she told Crikey in a message.

Because of the position she’s in, Aimee is worse off financially by staying on youth allowance than she would be if she discontinued her payments and sought the COVID disaster payment. She’s considered doing that but worries about how hard it will be to restart payments once the lockdowns finish.

“It was a struggle to get the amount of youth allowance that I do and I’m too stressed/worried that if I cancel it, it’s going to be even harder to go back to receiving it once the COVID-19 disaster payment ends, so I’d rather not risk it,” she said.

Other young Australians are in a similar position. The comments section of Services Australia’s post about the COVID disaster has been flooded with people on income support asking why they aren’t eligible, including some on youth allowance.

“This is really hard on students getting Austudy that worked as well, prior to COVID. $610 a fortnight doesn’t even cover rent,” one person said.

Young Australian advocacy group Think Forward spokeswoman Sonia Arakkal has called for the government to include youth allowance recipients.

“Young people have disproportionately been affected — we know that they’re the first to lose their jobs, the last to get vaccinated, and the cohort that will live with the long-term effects of wage scarring,” she said.

“Whether it’s the tax system, health insurance or the vaccine rollout, young Australians are consistently being asked to do the heavy lifting of supporting our nation — to take one for the team because of failures to ensure intergenerational equity in government policy.”