NUS Report into Youth Allowance Shows It’s Failing Students

A research report by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Foundation for Young Australians has found that the Australian Government is failing to provide students with adequate financial assistance, primarily due to Centrelink’s age requirements for Youth Allowance. The Government’s Centrelink system provides the bulk of it’s financial support to people aged over 22 (the ‘Age of Independence’), leaving a student population of 18 to 21-year-olds struggling to stabilise a safety net to afford rent, books, and food.

Out of a survey including 673 current and former students affected by Centrelink’s age requirements, it was found that:

  • Financial wellbeing was majorly impacted: 86% of students who were unable to access Youth Allowance reported that their finances were compromised, including 38% reporting that it affected housing instability.
  • Mental health was negatively impacted: 65% of students stated that the hassle of gaining Centrelink’s income support took a toll on their mental health. 
  • Educational experience was highly impacted: 60% of students reported an affect to their experience of education. This came in the form of fluctuating grades, ability to make social connections in and outside of campus, and the inability to undertake placements and other hands-on learning. Considering that majority of courses at RMIT require (usually unpaid) internships to graduate, this fact alone shows the outdatedness of Centrelink’s age requirements.
  • Experience of domestic or family violence was impacted: 8% of students reported that inability to access Centrelink heightened their experience of this.

Young people who do have access to Youth Allowance are mostly paid at around $26 per day, an obviously unliveable sum of money that forces students below the poverty line. Considering the current cost of living crisis, the Commonwealth Rent Assistance payments are also inadequate for students and young people, exemplified in an analysis of 45,000 rental properties in 2022, in which 0% were affordable for people on Youth Allowance.

“Receiving the COVID supplement was the first time in my life I experienced financial stability. Which was a real revelation for me – it’s actually this easy to not suffer.” – Darcy (they/them), 23

There shouldn’t need to be a pandemic in order for people to be worthy of living above the poverty line.

In the survey, 62% of people agreed that the Australian Government has a responsibility to ensure students do not have to live below the poverty line while they study. The basic necessities of life, like affording a roof over your head and food on your plate, shouldn’t be negotiable or based upon an age guide that doesn’t cater for each individual’s situation.

“The only reason I was not eligible [for Youth Allowance] was because my parents earn over the threshold, but it’s not like I see that money or receive 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.” – Tara (she/her), 21

Based upon the barely-surprising findings, The NUS are calling for:

  • The Age of Independence to be lowered from 22 to 18
  • A lift to society security payments to be above the poverty line (to at least $88 per day)
  • Adjust Youth Allowance (and other social security payments) with the rising cost of living
  • Update Rent Assistance payments to reflect and grow in line with market prices

To address these challenges, the NUS also recommend that the Federal Government:

  • Remove age based discrimination with how young people are paid by abolishing junior employee rates
  • Review the Disability Support Pension to ensure students with a disability have access to financial support while they study
  • Introduce new policies targeting rental and housing affordability in Australia
  • Fund further research into international student poverty and what policy supports should be put in place to appropriately support international students

Students are being locked out of Youth Allowance, making it easier for them to fall below the poverty line. Not only this, but Youth Allowance increases aren’t reflecting the current cost of living pressures, and Rent Assistance is far too low for booming rental prices. All of these factors have contributed to poorer mental health, negative educational experience and instability in other areas of life for students.

It’s time for Centrelink reform that adapts to the needs of young people.

Written by Savannah Selimi

Image courtesy of Julian Smith

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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