The number of people receiving the JobSeeker payment in Canberra has more than doubled since the coronavirus pandemic hit, even though the unemployment rate has remained largely stable in the ACT.
There are 22,680 people in the ACT receiving the $550 coronavirus supplement on top of their normal welfare payments, which includes people receiving the unemployment payment as well as those on Youth Allowance, the parenting payment, Austudy, Abstudy and a handful of other payments, according to the Department of Social Service.
In December 2019 there were 12,441 people receiving the same payments, but the increase is almost solely in the number of people who are looking for work. In December there were 6551 people receiving the then Newstart and Youth Allowance (other) payments, and in May that had grown to 14,858 people.
As the federal government considers the future of the unemployment payment, the ACT Council of Social Service said there would be dire consequences if the payment was to return to its former $40 a day level.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has signalled the payment won't continue at its current level after September, but there is speculation the government won't snap back to the previous payment level.
ACTCOSS chief executive Emma Campbell said she was incredibly concerned about what a reduction in the payment would mean for people struggling with the cost of living.
"We can't go back to a situation where people are struggling to survive on $40 a day," Ms Campbell said.
"We need to make sure we don't create a new COVID generation of people who face complex difficulties because there isn't a decent level of support that provided them with dignity and enough money to put food on the table, to go to the doctor and invest in the next step of their career."
While the ACT has not felt the effects of the downturn to the same level as other jurisdictions, Ms Campbell said the headline unemployment rate and high average income for the territory masked the situation felt by those who faced being without work in a city with a high cost of living and rents that have stayed high while other cities have fallen.
"We can't be confused by the high average because if you're on a low income and you have to rely on government support and you're in Canberra you face real challenges."
As well as calling on the federal government to ensure the welfare payment doesn't leave people in poverty, Ms Campbell said all parties in the ACT needed to commit to pressure the federal government to ensure people can afford the basics.
"The two drivers of poverty are income and housing and we are yet to hear from the ACT government about their investment in social and public housing as part of the stimulus."
The ACT government has committed to rental support for public housing tenants, but Ms Campbell says major investment in social housing was needed, both for community and economic recovery.