Centrelink’s Age Of Independence Rules Are Pushing Students Into Poverty
One in seven students regularly skip meals or other essentials because of financial insecurity.
New research has found that Centrelink’s ‘age of independence’ criteria is aggravating student poverty for young people in Australia.
The ‘Locked out of Youth Allowance: Student poverty and Centrelink in Australia’ report from the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Foundation of Young Australians (FYA) was released on Wednesday, and examined the multiple challenges students face while pursuing tertiary education.
It found that over 450,000 students are being excluded from Youth Allowance payments because they’re under 22, and therefore, seen as a dependent in their family household. Centrelink’s age of independence remains 22, despite calls to drop the eligibility age down to 18 last year.
For the younger students for whom an exemption is made — based on an assessment of their guardians’ income — they are mostly paid less than $26 a day.
“Not only are students juggling work and study, but the increasingly high costs of living, and a number of systemic failures continue to impact the health and wellbeing of students across the country,” said NUS President, Georgie Beatty in a statement on the “harrowing” research.
Nearly 90 percent of respondents said not being able to access Youth Allowance due to their age negatively impacted their financial situation, with 60 percent reporting impacts on their grades and education experience, and 65 percent seeing ramifications to their mental health.
Additionally, eight percent said the age of independence eligibility restrictions negatively impacted their experience of domestic or family violence.
“How are students meant to be focusing on their education when they are fighting to survive? This is a solvable problem. The government has accepted that one in seven students regularly skip meals or other essentials because of financial insecurity,” said NUS Welfare Officer Billy Zimmerman.
“[They] should be able to put food on their table, rent a stable home, and enjoy studying with their friends, with a safety net of knowing Youth Allowance is there if they find themselves out of work.”
Students told the NUS they were having to reconsider whether study was actually feasible due to lack of welfare access, and noted the turmoil of having to reach out to their families for paperwork when not always safe to do so.
One respondent, Tara, said that she was denied an exception because her parents earn over the threshold, despite not being dependent on their income. “My parents are smokers and drinkers so a lot of their money goes there, not to me. I understand that Centrelink’s logic is that I receive support from my parents, but I don’t,” the 21-year-old student said.
“Students from all ages and backgrounds should have an equal opportunity to access higher education, no matter their postcode or the amount of money in their bank account…”
The report recommends the Albanese Government lift social security payments to above the poverty line, adjust Youth Allowance to reflect the cost of living, and update rent assistance payments to reflect market rents, as well as lowering the age of eligibility from 22 to 18.
“The biggest barrier to studying at TAFE or university is that Centrelink still discriminates against students based on their age and forces students to live in poverty to get an education,” said Beatty.
“In Australia, students from all ages and backgrounds should have an equal opportunity to access higher education, no matter their postcode or the amount of money in their bank account.”
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