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:
- 85% (or 728,200) were unemployment payment recipients
- 4.3% (or 37,200) were parenting payment recipients.
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).
Impact on parenting payment recipients
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).
Impact on recipients of unemployment payments
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:
- the proportion of young people receiving unemployment payments doubled – from 5.6% to 11.5% for those aged 16–24 and from 4.3% to 9.8% for those aged 25–34 compared with a relative slower growth for the other age groups (4.8% to 8.9% for those aged 35–44 and 5.6% to 9.3% for those aged 45–54)
- the rise in the number of recipients of these payments was steeper for young women than young men aged 25–34 – 2.4 times as high in May 2020 as in March 2020, compared with a corresponding rise of just over twice as high among men of the same age. For the age groups between 35–64, the increase in recipient numbers was higher for men than women over this period.
- the proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving unemployment payments doubled in Major cities between March and June 2020 (from 3.7% to 7.4%), compared with smaller increases observed in the other areas (from 5.8% to 9.0% in Inner and outer regional areas, and from 10.3% to 13.4% in Remote and very remote areas).
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:
- almost 1 in 2 (49%) parenting payment recipients were aged 25–34 and almost 1 in 3 (32%) were aged 35–44
- unemployment payment recipients were distributed evenly across the 16–64 age groups (around 19–21% in each 10-year age group); proportions were lower for those aged 65 and over (2.4%), reflecting that older age groups are transitioning out of work.
- when accounting for the size of the population for each of these age groups, those aged 55–64 and 16–24 were slightly more likely to be receiving unemployment payments (8.5% and 8.3%, respectively) than other age groups (7.7% for those aged 45–54, 7.1% for 25–34 and 7.0% for 35–44).
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).