No Child Left Behind: Mayor calls to extend COVID-19 support

Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller.
Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller.

John* is an asylum seeker from Africa and came to Australia in 2019 with his wife Jenny* and their three children.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple had been in casual employment - John as a sales supervisor at a florist and Jenny at a factory - but both lost the jobs due to coronavirus closures.

The couple have been left devastated as their oldest son, James* became the families' sole financial income earner while juggling study. They used their savings to support themselves for two months before facing financial hardship with the pressure and stress starting to affect John's physical health as the bills piled up for food, electricity and gas and rent.

It's one of the many stories coming out of the Liverpool-based Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre with JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments not eligible to people seeking asylum.

Through the Multicultural NSW-funded MRC's Temporary Visa Crisis Management Program, the family were able to receive rent payment assistance, food and pharmacy vouchers alongside casework support to explore advocacy and system navigation advice.

But more needs to be done according to Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller to allow couples like Jenny and John to access government assistance, allowing their son to concentrate on his education.

Mayor Waller has joined the Refugee Council of Australia and 38 other councils in the No Child Left Behind campaign, adding her name to a letter urging the federal government to extend JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to families seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas.

The open letter outlines key concerns for people seeking asylum who have lost work as a result of COVID-19 and remain ineligible for income support programs and - in some instances - Medicare.

Mayor Waller said Liverpool - who welcomed the the second highest intake of refugees from 2016-2019 - is currently home to 1251 people seeking asylum.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us hard and as we deal with our own daily challenges it is too easy to forget the most vulnerable, such as those members of our community who are seeking asylum or who are refugees on temporary visas," Mayor Waller said.

"There are currently more than 96,000 people on bridging visas seeking protection in this country and more than 16,000 of them are children.

"They're not eligible for JobSeeker or JobKeeper, and they're often precariously employed in those very sectors hit hardest by the shutdown, such as the service industries.

"That's why we are calling on the Federal Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston to extend the JobSeeker payment to all those on bridging visas and ensure everyone has access to Medicare and the PBS so that no child gets left behind."

A spokesman for Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said Australia has "one of the most generous refugee and humanitarian programs in the world."

"On a per capita basis, our program is matched by very few other nations," the spokesperson for Senator Ruston said.

"Individuals who are granted permanent protection under this program have access to Australia's social security system, including JobKeeper and JobSeeker. This accounts for the vast majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants in Australia.

"Individuals who arrived in Australia illegally by boat and have been granted a temporary visa or those whose claims are being assessed, may have access to some social security benefits administered by Services Australia or support through the Department of Home Affairs' Status Resolution Support Services program, dependent on their circumstances."

The spokesman said people on certain temporary visas may be able to access special benefit if they face significant financial hardship.

"The government has also provided funding for the Red Cross to deliver emergency relief and some casework support specifically for temporary visa holders," the spokesman said.

Mayor Waller said the the federal government needs to act.

"The idea that any child should go hungry or be at risk of losing their home or even go without medical care is simply not good enough in a country as wealthy as Australia," she said.

"This issue cuts to the heart and soul of our community."

*Names have been changed