Welfare and arts bodies want a ban on housing evictions for the next few months to support people who have lost their income because of the coronavirus outbreak.
- Closures caused by coronavirus will see thousands of workers left without an income
- Loss of employment is a major factor in homelessness
- Contract workers and business owners in the arts sector have so far lost $47 million due to the crisis
The Council for Homeless Persons’ acting chief executive Kate Colvin estimates tens of thousands of people will lose work because of the virus.
“I think we need to start thinking about how we make sure people are not thrown out of housing at a time when we are having a health crisis,” she said.
She is particularly worried about casual and contract workers in hospitality, tourism and the arts and entertainment industries.
“There has been a lot of focus on casual workers needing support to self-isolate but I think the much bigger problem is that casual workers just needed the work they thought they were going to get so they can pay the rent,” she said.
Ms Colvin said the scale of events being cancelled or postponed, which includes the Melbourne Grand Prix, Vivid Sydney, the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Bluesfest and the Sydney Royal Easter Show, would leave thousands of workers without an income.
She said losing a job was a “very significant driver of homelessness”.
“We are now talking about this happening to thousands of people simultaneously across the country.”
Ms Colvin said while some workers might have been able to absorb a week or two without an income, many will not be able to cover months without a wage.
She said Newstart would not be enough to cover private rental costs that many people would already be locked into.
“People will be in a situation where they just basically don’t have enough money,” she said.
Ms Colvin said it was a problem being felt across the world due to social-distancing measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
“I did notice that legislation has just been introduced into the parliament in New York to ban evictions during the coronavirus outbreak, I think something similar has happened in Italy,” she said.
Reports from US media show in New York the Mayor has banned evictions in public housing and in San Francisco the Mayor has banned evictions city-wide for a month.
Ms Colvin said another option would be Federal Government rental assistance for people who have lost work.
Job losses ‘widespread’
Those within the arts industry are also backing calls for a halt on housing evictions during the coronavirus outbreak.
Emily Collins, the managing director at MusicNSW and the chair of the Australian Music Industry Network, is trying to quantify how much money workers in the arts sector have lost.
The music network created a website two days ago that allows people working in the arts to log the amount of work they have lost this year due to bushfires and coronavirus.
In that time, owners of small and medium businesses, as well as contract workers from the arts industry, have registered $47 million in lost income.
“We have seen widespread job losses that will have significant ramifications across the industry and across society,” Ms Collins said.
She said it was time for drastic measures to support people out of work.
“We are really worried about people’s mental health, and how they are going to get by and pay their rent and buy food and essential goods,” she said.
Ms Collins said any measure that provided stability for those losing work should be considered.
“We’ve got to remember that we will get through this, it is just about propping people up for the next few months,” she said.
Small business owner backs call for rental assistance
Louise Klerks runs a gallery and arts space in Melbourne’s CBD called Missing Persons.
She holds life-drawing classes there three times a week, which usually has between 30 and 50 people attending.
The sole trader also rents out the gallery to performers.
So far she has lost two major bookings, including for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and may lose a third booking.
That would see her venue without any events until mid-May.
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For now, her art classes are continuing with the class size limited to 35 people.
“We have worked out that is the most people we can have in the venue with enough space between people, that they aren’t too close,” she said.
Ms Klerks said once her classes had to stop, she would lose all of her income but would still need to pay her rent and bills.
She said the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus and its impacts had made it difficult to run and plan her business.
“I have been in a bit of a panic, just unsure what it means for me, what it means for the gallery and for my community,” she said.
Ms Klerks said the impacts of coronavirus were already being felt across the arts and entertainment industry.
She has a friend who just lost her job, and another who works casually at a gallery who will not have work while the outbreak continues.
Ms Klerks said commercial and housing rental assistance would be key.
“Rental assistance would be great, it is a dollar amount that is proven that we need to pay,” she said.
Shift ‘away from direct employment’
The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ secretary Sally McManus said “the coronavirus will have far-reaching consequences for millions of Australian”.
She said there was a broad range of Australians that were losing work and needed to know they could keep paying their bills.
“Workers need to know that whether they’re being sent home from a job in retail or a musician who is having to cancel bookings, the response to this virus will not interrupt their income and they will be able to continue to pay their bills and rent,” Ms McManus said.
The peak body for unions is calling for two weeks’ special leave for these types of workers, to be included in the Federal Government’s assistance package.
Arts Minister to host industry meeting
The Federal Minister for Arts and Communication, Paul Fletcher, has organised roundtable teleconference meetings with arts and media organisations this week.
The arts meeting will run tomorrow, with the Minister saying the Australian Government understands the serious impact coronavirus is having on the arts and cultural industries.
He said the already-announced federal assistance package included support of up to $25,000 for small and medium businesses to allow them to keep paying employees, and he said he would speak to the industry about how federal funding could be applied to the creative industries.
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