Public housing tenants on Newstart in Canberra are falling well behind in their rent, even at the much-reduced public housing rate, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says.
Mr Barr revealed the data in a submission to a Senate inquiry into the rate of Newstart, urging the federal government to immediately boost the unemployment benefit.
He said 13 per cent of people in public housing in Canberra were on Newstart, but they were significantly over-represented among people in debt.
Thirty per cent of households in debt were on Newstart, owing four weeks rent or more.
Twenty per cent of Newstart tenants owed four or more weeks rent. The situation was worse among people with children. One in four tenants with children was at least a month behind in their rent.
While public housing tenants paid only one-quarter of their income in rent, the remaining 75 per cent was clearly not enough for their needs, Mr Barr said.
Mr Barr said Newstart was less than 10 per cent of the average wage in Canberra, making it still more difficult for people receiving the benefit to support themselves in a city geared to higher income earners.
His was one of 70 submissions to the inquiry, which has been set up in the face of the government's refusal to increase the unemployment payment.
Newstart for singles is $278 a week, and has been tied to inflation instead of wages since 1997. The Greens want to boost it to $353 a week. The campaign has backers on the Coalition side, including the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce, who has made it a key issue.
Mr Barr disputed the suggestion that Newstart was helping people get back on track quickly, with ACT households receiving Newstart for an average of two years.
In Canberra, 3740 people were on Newstart or Youth Allowance. While they also received rent assistance, they were still in rental stress, paying a median rent of $240 a week.
Mr Barr said it was a misconception that people on Newstart were young jobseekers entering the market. In fact, almost 80 per cent of them were over 25, and one-quarter over 50.
The rate of Newstart was too low to help people recover unexpected shocks such as losing their job which could drive them into poverty and crisis, he said.
In many cases, Newstart recipients could barely meet their basic needs, let alone re-enter the workforce or participate in society.