For many, it was a brutal blow.
They hoped a long-awaited permanent change to the JobSeeker rate would keep them out of poverty.
The pandemic brought a boost in payments, and many of those living on Centrelink said for the first time in years, they didn’t skip meals, they paid off debt and they bought new clothes.
Instead, the government announced the rate would permanently rise by just $50 a fortnight.
The change will come as the current $75-a-week COVID-19 supplement ends on March 31, leaving recipients $50 a week worse off.
Mike Sadler, 60, had a successful IT career for 30 years, until an accident at work made it impossible to continue.
“The stress is just something that people don’t realise,” he told The New Daily.
“I think back to when I was gainfully employed, I didn’t realise.”
He tried to work but it made his injury worse and by 2015, he was out of the workforce.
After his insurance compensation dried up, his family spiralled into debt.
He applied for jobs but was frequently told he was too qualified and kept getting knocked back.
Sydney became too expensive, so Mr Sadler, his wife and two children, aged 16 and 11, moved to Wagga Wagga.
He said as soon as he heard the announcement about the rate rise, any hope he had was quashed.
“I thought of my kids and my gut dropped,” he said.
“I thought I prepared myself but the impact it has on the kids … I try to insulate them from this. But they know what’s going on.”
Mr Sadler and his wife “took the hit” – going without things like food, so they can buy their kids basic necessities.
They don’t attend other kids’ birthday parties, because they wouldn’t be able to afford a present. They don’t go to the movies. A dinner out is impossible.
He lives in fear something will need fixing and they’ll be driven further into debt.
“If we just sit at home and nothing goes wrong, then we can live. It’s not a very pleasant existence, but we can exist,” Mr Sadler said.
“The moment one little problem comes up, you’re stuffed.”
Mr Sadler has gone back to study at university, so he can become a primary school teacher. He desperately wants to work.
“It’s not fair we are treated like pariahs,” he said.
James Cutler, 28, finished his part-time job just before the pandemic hit so he could do further education.
The Melburnian is armed with a bachelor degree in journalism and a masters in international development. He was about to apply for a PhD.
“That all went out the window,” he said. “I have been unemployed and constantly applying for jobs since.”
Mr Cutler has applied for hundreds of jobs.
He doesn’t care what they are any more, he just wants to work, he said.
“I can’t even get interviews for jobs I’m overqualified for,” he told TND.
His job provider, who is tasked with helping him find work, can’t offer any help.
“She says, ‘You’re doing everything right, I can’t give you anything’.”
Mr Cutler’s rent is about to become completely unaffordable under the new payments.
“Since they did the last cut and went down from the COVID rate, I’ve been struggling. Now they’re going to cut it back further.”
Caryn Ryan, 64, goes without food to pay her mortgage.
She was a medical secretary working in some of Australia’s best hospitals for more than 30 years until she fell at work, injuring herself so badly she could not go back.
She tried to get back into the workforce but was rejected, over and over again.
“I went for 877 jobs between 2017 and 2018 – I kept getting stopped at the post,” she said.
“It has taken its toll on me to the point I feel like I’m a failure. I have nothing to get up for every day.”
She isn’t eligible to receive the age pension until April 2023 and relies on a friend to help her with groceries.
She receives the base payment of $565.70 a fortnight, and her mortgage costs $500.
“You don’t have to be a mathematician. That leaves $65 a fortnight to pay bills and food. I am sick of having to make decisions between what I pay for and what I don’t pay,” Ms Ryan told TND.
She’s baffled by the government’s logic – they admitted they knew the rate was too low during the pandemic, so they boosted it.
“If they realised people needed that much money to get by those last 12 months, how the heck did they come up now with $3 a day now?”
Aeryn Brown, 36, has been on JobSeeker since 2015.
Ms Brown suffers from acute anxiety and depression.
Her psychologist wants her to go on the disability pension, but the criteria are strict and she hasn’t been successful so far.
“I don’t have the words to describe the announcement,” Ms Brown said.
“I have a disability, but I can’t get on the pension. I’m not disabled enough.”
Unable to land a job, she has continued studying, picking up a bachelor degree, a diploma and is now working on a masters.
She wants to work, but has struggled to land a job. There are not many jobs in Wollongong.
“I want a go, but no one will give me a go,” she said.