The Australian Federal Government is changing eligibility requirements for Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS). This will affect thousands of people seeking asylum living in our community. SRSS provides income support and other services people seeking asylum who are not working. The policy changes require all asylum seekers aged between 18 and 70 to work, with very few exemptions.
However, asylum seekers face many barriers in trying to find work, and many have only casual or part-time work, not earning enough to live on. Others are unable to work because of sickness, pregnancy, disability, the effects of suffering trauma, or study.
From July, 2018, the Federal Department of Home Affairs will implement these policy changes.
Withdrawal of SRSS will include cuts to: financial support (currently this is 89% of Newstart Allowance or about $250 per week), pharmaceutical subsidy for essential medications, access to torture and trauma counselling and casework support.
The Refugee Council of Australia estimates that this will cause more than 7,500 people, mostly living in Western and South Western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, to become hungry and homeless.
An initial group of 800 will have their support cut starting with single men on the 3rd of July and followed by families with children from the 10th July.
Consequences of the cuts to support
The changes to who is eligible for SRSS will mean that thousands of people currently on the program will have no income, and therefore no money for rent, food or medications. They will also have no access to trauma counselling.
With the immediate loss of any form of income to pay rent, essential medications, or even daily food, people will inevitably turn to charities and the community for support. Many families, pregnant women people seeking work, and survivors of torture and trauma will be affected by this policy.
Overstretched agencies will see an increase in people seeking emergency relief for food and support to pay rent. Hospitals will have more people to emergency departments as people will not afford their medications. Stretched homelessness services will see more people – including families with young children – in need of emergency accommodation.
People will have to stop taking vital medication, go hungry so their children can eat, and end up in work where they are vulnerable to exploitation. People may become so desperate that they self-harm.
What can we do about this?
There are crucial ways Uniting Church members, congregations and their communities can help:
- Provide financial aid: for food, medicines, housing. Donations can be made to Bridge for Asylum Seekers (BASF). BASF was established in 2003 as a committee of Uniting to assist people seeking asylum. Since then it has raised over $3.5 million. The bulk of these funds are channelled through the Asylum Seeker Centre to provide living allowances and rent support for people seeking asylum. For information on making a donation click here.
- Help with accommodation: The most critical need is funds to maintain people in existing rental accommodation (see above). However some congregations or members may have spare accommodation to offer. To discuss this contact Janet Castle at BASF on 0402 614 586 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Advocacy: Please write to your federal Member of Parliament and call for this policy change to be stopped. Or even better visit them and explain your concerns. The Social Justice Forum team can assist members and congregations to organise a delegation to their federal Member of Parliament. Contact Jon O’Brien (Social Justice Forum) on (02) 9407 3225 or email@example.com
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has developed a Dignity not Destitution campaign that offers additional resources on this issue. You can find this material here.
This information was collated by Rev Marion Gledhill and Jon O’Brien from material issued by the Refugee Council of Australia, House of Welcome, Asylum Seeker Centre, Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service.