Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Income and income support, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 30 November 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Income and income support. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/income-support
Income and income support. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/income-support
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Income and income support [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Nov. 30]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/income-support
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Income and income support, viewed 30 November 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/income-support
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A person’s wellbeing is influenced by many factors, but having an adequate income remains an essential component in measuring individual and household wellbeing. Adequate levels of income can help Australians to better support themselves, their families and their communities more broadly. For most people, income can be an indicator of their ability to, week by week, access food, clothing, education, housing or leisure activities. A person’s income is influenced by their economic circumstances – in particular employment and type of employment, hours worked, occupation, and government support through Australia’s social security system.
This page examines a range of measures that provide an overview of the economic wellbeing of Australians, including household income and those receiving income support payments through the social security system.
The data presented on this page are based on the latest available data at the time of finalising this snapshot in late July 2021.
In 2017–18, 3 in 5 households (61%) reported wages and salaries as their primary source of income, followed by government pensions and allowances (23%), other income (12%) and own unincorporated business income (4.3%).
Government pensions and allowances were more likely to be reported as the primary source of income for households in the lowest income quintile (65%) or second lowest quintile (32%) compared with other quintiles (less than 6% the third-fifth quintiles; ABS 2019).
The most recent data on average household income between February 2020 and May 2021 at the time of drafting were from the Australian National University (ANU) COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey Program.
The ANU COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey Program conducted surveys in February, April, May, August and November 2020, and in January and April 2021. It collected information on attitudes to coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), labour market outcomes, household income, financial hardship, life satisfaction, and mental health through the COVID-19 pandemic period.
The longitudinal study had a sample of over 3,000 respondents. This representative panel survey of adults living in Australia uses random probability-based sampling methods and covers both online and offline populations (that is, people who do and do not have access to the internet). A panel survey allows longitudinal data to be obtained from the same respondents before the spread of COVID-19, enabling changes for individuals to be tracked over time; that is not possible using a series of cross-sectional snapshot surveys. The survey was weighted to have a similar distribution to the Australian population across key demographic and geographic variables.
Survey data presented in this section are sourced from published papers (Biddle & Gray 2021; Biddle et al. 2020a, 2020b, 2020c) and previously unpublished data.
Average weekly (after-tax) household income decreased during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, recovered, and then dropped to below February 2020 levels by April 2021:
These patterns likely reflect changes in employment and the introduction and removal of government support payments (such as JobKeeper Payment and Coronavirus Supplement) in the 12 months to April 2021.
In the context of longer term trends, median weekly equivalised household income in the decade to 2017–18 increased by 4.5% (or $39 per week), based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) (ABS 2019). Note that SIH income data are not directly comparable with the ANU data, due to differences in sample methodology and the income measure reported (that is, the SIH measure of income is adjusted, or ‘equivalised’, according to household size, composition and age profile).
Reductions in average household income were not distributed evenly across all Australians, according to the ANU COVID-19 Monitoring Survey Program (Figure 1):
These patterns reflect, among other things, the recovery in employment and the impact of increasing government payments (such as Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper Payment) for the working-age population.
See ‘Chapter 4 The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s Welfare 2021: data insights for more information.
Income from wages can be measured using several data sources, such as data from:
Following the widespread social distancing and other business-related restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, total wages fell by 7.5% between 14 March and 23 May 2020, but, by September 2020, had increased to levels previously seen in March 2020. This reflects the economy starting to recover as business-related restrictions started to ease and the number of people in employment increased.
Based on the Wage Price Index, hourly rates of pay have increased slowly over the last decade:
In March 2021, the annual growth rate sat at 1.5% (ABS 2021a).
For more information on income from wages during the COVID-19 pandemic, see ‘Chapter 4 The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s Welfare 2021: data insights.
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. Income support payments and family assistance payments are 2 major categories of payment that are the focus of this page.
Data on income support and other payments are sourced from Department of Social Services payment demographic data (from 2014 to 2021) and previously unpublished data constructed from Services Australia administrative data (2001 to 2013), unless otherwise specified.
Benefits classified as income support payments are those that generally serve as a recipient’s primary source of income; they are regular payments that assist with the day-to-day cost of living. Income support payments are subject to means testing – as income and assets rise, the rate of payment is reduced towards zero. Some payments are also subject to activity tests; for example, to remain qualified for a payment, recipients of unemployment payments are required to actively look and prepare for work in the future. Individuals can receive only one income support payment at a time.
The main income support payments are:
On this page, ‘income support payments’ are defined as the combination of all these payments, as well as other small payments. These other payments include Special Benefit, Bereavement Allowance, Sickness Allowance and payments that are closed to new recipients but still paid to existing recipients (including Partner and Widow Allowance to January 2022, Wife Pension to March 2020).
For more information on specific payment types, see Unemployment and parenting payments, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment and Age Pension.
Family assistance payments help families with the cost of raising children. They include:
A small number of recipients of income support payments are aged under 16 in March 2021: 388 for ABSTUDY (Living Allowance), 10 for Youth Allowance (student and apprentice), fewer than 5 for Youth Allowance (other), 68 for Parenting Payment Single, 757 for Special Benefit. These recipients are included in the numerator in calculating the proportion of income support recipients aged 16 and over in the population, to ensure consistency in recipient numbers reported on this page.
For more details on government payments, see Services Australia’s income support payments and the Department of Social Services benefits and payments.
As at 26 March 2021, 5.5 million people received an income support payment, equating to 27% of the population aged 16 and over (Figure 2). Of these:
Receipt of income support payments was higher among certain populations. As at March 2021, income support receipt was higher for:
In June 2020, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over in receipt of income support payments (28%) was similar to the high levels observed in the early 2000s (28–29% in 2001–2005); Figure 2.
Before March 2020, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving income support payments had been generally falling, reaching its lowest level in 20 years in June 2019 (24%). This reflected, in part, labour market conditions as well as reforms to the social security system, such as enhancements to mutual obligation requirements over the last decade.
For more details, see ‘Chapter 3 Income support over the past 20 years’ of Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights.
There were 235,200 fewer income support recipients in June 2019 than in June 2015, with declines varying somewhat across payments. Recipients of unemployment-related payments (previously Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other)) contributed 39% to this decline, parenting payments 26%, student payments 27% and Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment 18% (Figure 2).
In late March 2020, the Australian Government introduced short-term policy measures to protect those whose income was adversely affected by the shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement provided additional support to new and existing recipients of unemployment payments and a number of other income support payments. For selected payments, such as the JobSeeker Payment, short-term policy changes were made, which included waiving the asset tests, waiting periods, and the obligation to actively seek work.
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.
Reliance on income support increased steeply following the introduction of social distancing and business-related restrictions in March 2020, it then gradually declined from June 2020, but in mid-2021 was still higher than in March 2020 (Figure 2):
In March 2021 recipient numbers were still 11% higher (an additional 555,200 recipients or 5.54 million recipients in total) than in March 2020. While recipient numbers continued to fall between March and June 2021 (186,700 fewer recipients or 5.35 million recipients in total), the number of recipients in June 2021 was still 7.4% higher than in March 2020.
The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving income support payments rose from 24% to 28% between March 2020 and June 2020; it fell slightly to 27% in March 2021 but remained above the pre-pandemic levels in March 2020.
The rate of increase in income support recipients varied by payment type. Most (85% or 728,200) of this overall increase in recipient numbers between March and June 2020 was due to an increase in those receiving unemployment payments (Figure 2).
Over this 3-month period, the number of recipients of:
By March 2021, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving unemployment payments was 6.3%, student payments 1.2% and parenting payments 1.6%.
The number of recipients of Age Pension and disability-related payments (Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment) remained relatively stable over 2020, while recipients of other payments declined due to the closure of some small payments.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the receipt of particular payment types, see Unemployment and parenting income support payments, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment and Age Pension.
As at 26 March 2021, there were 1.4 million FTB A recipients and 1.1 million FTB B recipients receiving FTB through fortnightly instalments. The majority of recipients (80%) are eligible for both FTB A and FTB B. As well, a large proportion (47%) also received an income support payment (based on previously unpublished data from Department of Social Services).
In the 6 years to March 2021, the receipt of FTB has been declining. Between March 2015 and March 2021, the number of:
During 2020, receipt of FTB remained relatively steady. This suggests that the business-related restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic had a minimal impact on the number of people receiving this benefit.
There was, however, a large increase in the number of FTB recipients also receiving a qualifying income support payment for the Coronavirus Supplement, particularly JobSeeker Payment, consistent with the steep initial increase in unemployment payment recipients in the early months of 2020, as reported earlier.
Unpublished data from the Department of Social Services indicate that:
For more information on household income, see Household income and wealth, Australia.
For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Household income and wealth, Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 18 June 2021.
ABS 2021a. Wage Price Index, Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 June 2021.
ABS 2021b. Weekly payroll jobs and wages in Australia. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 1 July 2021.
Biddle N & Gray M 2021. Tracking wellbeing outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2021): continued social and economic recovery and resilience. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020a. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (May 2020): job and income losses halted and confidence rising. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020b. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (August 2020): divergence within Australia. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020c. Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (November 2020): counting the costs of the COVID-recession. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU.
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