Paying overdue bills, paying down loans and paying back family members – this is how family members within the 100 Families WA project had been using additional income from JobSeeker and Coronavirus Supplement payments.
Speaking at the first monthly event of the State Library of WA’s Disrupted Festival, Professor Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) UWA, used data from the ongoing 100 Families WA project to demonstrate just how critical the additional income had been to those living in poverty and what the loss of the COVID supplement means for families in hardship.
The 100 Families project is a collective action research program that brings together the Western Australian Council of Social Services and several community service organisations, along with CSI UWA and the Social Policy Practice Research Consortium at UWA.
It aims to examine the issues of entrenched disadvantage, and find solutions based on the lived experiences of WA families.
More than 400 families have been surveyed as part of the project, which began in 2019, and 100 families have been interviewed fortnightly.
“Nearly half of the families – 46% – were using the money to pay overdue bills. More than a quarter were paying back family,” said Professor Flatau.
“The money was spent on reducing their debt, and it was being used to good effect. This isn’t surprising given the significant toll that debt has on participant’s lives.”
Participant surveys of the families also showed that living with debt had led to:
- 60% developing a stress-related illness
- 48% developing a physical illness
- 43% experiencing a relationship breakdown
- 31% moving home
Almost two-thirds of participants fear they will never pay their debt off.
Based on the data, with JobSeeker and the Coronavirus Supplements now significantly scaled back, Professor Flatau said thousands of families and individuals were in danger of being plunged back into poverty and debt.
The 100 Families project has also revealed a full picture of what entrenched disadvantage can look like.
A survey of the participants regarding the essentials of life showed that 79% could not afford $500 in savings for an emergency, compared to 22% of the wider community. Home contents insurance, holidays, dental treatment and a present for a loved one also went by the wayside.
Participants were clear about what would help them to change their circumstances – putting employment at the top of their list.
Secure accommodation, financial security and effective health support were also cited.
The final 100 Families WA report is due to be released in August 2021.
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