GOVERNMENT income support payments boosted temporarily by the coronavirus supplement should stay permanently at their new and higher levels, according to the Samaritans.
The Newcastle-based charity's call comes as it releases its annual Rental Affordability Snapshot data, which shows just 5.5 per cent of all rental properties advertised across the total Newcastle/Lake Macquarie, Hunter, Central Coast and Mid Coast regions on March 20 were affordable and appropriate for households on income support payments. The figure was 36.3 per cent for households on the minimum wage.
Chief executive Brad Webb said the nationally accepted benchmark for rental affordability was no more than 30 percent of net household income.
"Many of us have become detached from the reality that some people in our society face," he said.
"It's a shocking indictment on a country that is prosperous.
"What that means in real terms is if I'm on an income support payment I've got to pay more than 30 per cent of my income to have a roof over my head and that could be 40, 50, 60 per cent of my income, which means then I'm struggling to put food on the table."
The report shows in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie for example, no properties were affordable and appropriate for an 18 year old on JobSeeker allowance.
Seven per cent were for a 74 year old on the age pension and one per cent were for a couple, both 38, on JobSeeker with two children. Just five per cent were affordable and appropriate for a couple, both 68, on the age pension.
Mr Webb said while the figures were not out of step with previous years, vulnerability was no longer an abstract concept for many Australians who had found themselves unexpectedly at risk of losing their accommodation or income due to COVID-19.
"It's going to be hard for them to forget what it was like to line up for unemployment benefits, what it was like to seek services from an organisation like the Samaritans and what it was like to feel like the roof over their head was under threat."
The report measured the effect of the government's temporary, six month increase to income support payments.
The coronavirus supplement is an additional $550 per fortnight to all new and existing recipients of JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting payments, on top of their normal payments.
The report showed the supplement would lead to an increase in rental affordability for some households on some payment types and in some areas.
But Mr Webb said its size and temporary nature meant it was more likely to be used for household expenses. He said the increase should be broadened to include the age and disability pensions and be made permanent.
"We've seen a drop off in our emergency relief centres of people coming for food and bill support, because they've now got a little bit more money in their pocket and they can make ends meet.
"That's not going to sustain over time if they take that away."
He said regardless, there still wasn't enough supply to keep up with demand. He said there would be a shortage of 500,000 social and affordable rental properties by 2036.
"We need to be building homes for people that are affordable and appropriate and that will need federal, state and local government to come together with the private sector, philanthropic sector, with community housing, with NGOs... we're not even having the conversation, we're not seeing the leadership."