9 Sep 2020

Hundreds lose Covid-19 relief payment, but no jobs in sight

9:55 am on 9 September 2020

Hundreds of people are coming off the government's 12-week Covid-19 income relief payment, without having found a new job.

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Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The special payment is for people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and those out of fulltime work can get $490 a week.

Ministry of Social Development figures show that in the last week of August, 560 people came to the end of their entitlement.

In that same week, just 162 had their entitlement cancelled because they had found employment.

Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said few employers were ready or able to hire.

"What we have continually seen, particularly since the resurgence of Covid-19 in Auckland is that business confidence has slumped and the willingness for a business to bring on a new worker is very, very low at the moment."

Since March, 77,000 people have ended up on the Jobseeker benefit or the Covid income relief payment.

Olsen said many of them could be out of work for some time.

"The competition in the market will just be so intense and there will be so few roles on offer that a number are still going to be looking for work even once this payment ends.

"And for those people, it does remain a tough proposition for how you keep you and your family fed and with a roof over your head."

'I haven't even told my parents'

Kevin had been working in retail as an assistant manager for almost three years, but towards the end of the first Covid-19 lockdown, he was made redundant.

"It's stressful. I want to be angry, but I can't really be angry because no one wanted Covid-19 to happen," he said.

"I can't really be angry at the company for letting me go, because they needed to do what they had to do to survive."

Kevin has been receiving the Covid income relief payment - with a bit extra from an accommodation supplement - but it runs out this week.

Despite scouring Seek and Trade Me and sending in countless applications, he hasn't been able to find a new job and his only option will be going on to the benefit.

He'll still get the accommodation supplement, but the base rate for Jobseeker support is about $250 - about half the Covid payment.

Kevin said he is trying to cut whatever costs he can, so he has enough money to pay his rent and other essentials.

"I've already cut down on my electricity, so if I don't really need to, I just use the light on my phone ... so I don't have to pay a large power bill," he said.

"I'm trying to cut costs as much as possible, but I'm worried that if I'm getting the Jobseeker plus an accommodation benefit, whether it's going to be enough."

Kevin insists he doesn't want to be a burden on anyone.

"I haven't even told my parents," he said.

"I told them that I've been made redundant, but I haven't told them that the income relief payment I'm getting from the government will come to an end - I don't want them to worry."

Kevin said he was grateful for the support he's been able to get, but what he really wants is a job.

Some may not be eligible for benefit

University of Auckland sociologist Louise Humpage - alongside the Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty and FIRST Union - is surveying people on the benefit and the Covid income relief payment to compare their experiences.

While those on the Covid payment are getting a higher amount and might have savings to draw on, Humpage said they were also reporting higher levels of mental stress.

"We can see that they've actually had significant drops in income, most were earning between $500 and $900 a week and we actually have a significant proportion that were earning over $1500 a week.

"So that's a big drop to $490."

Humpage said many people coming off the Covid payment may not even be able to get the benefit, because their partner is still working.

"The majority of them have said they probably or definitely wouldn't survive with the lower payment that they'll get, or in fact they may not be eligible with their partner working."

Anyone who loses their job between March and the end of October due to Covid-19 is eligible for the Covid income relief payment.

So far, about 25,000 people have taken it up. Applications will close in mid-November.

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