JobKeeper, a $90 billion wage subsidy scheme set up in the light of coronavirus, and paid by the Federal Government, has now ended. It’s something that we’ve all become familiar with over the past year — or at least, your employer most likely knows the ins and outs of it very well.
In fact, at JobKeeper’s height, almost a third of us working Aussies were on it. According to the SBS, it was 3.6 million of us employees, out of a total of around 13 million.
It was also extended once, with it originally due to cease in September of last year. But as of March 28, it’s officially come to an end.
And now that it has, we’re left with a lot of questions. What does the end of JobKeeper actually mean — for employers and employees? According to one estimate from the Treasury Secretary, hundreds of thousands of Australians may now be out of a job — how will those among us be affected, work-wise as well as mentally?
Well, we don’t have all the answers, but we spoke to some people who have a few of their own to share — two people affected by the end of JobKeeper, and a psychiatrist to talk about the mental health impact of the scheme’s end.
It’s been just over a year since JobKeeper was first announced, being implemented on March 30, 2020, something that Dr Matthew Cullen, psychiatrist and founder of Chemist2U, says provided “economic security, peace of mind, feeling like the government cared and listened [to you].” In his opinion, there unquestionably would have been far greater mental health issues without its introduction.
For Shelley Breen, who work(ed) for a small business, she said that the wage subsidy “very much helped the business stay afloat during lockdown” and gave staff reassurance that the company “wanted to get through this with as little impact as possible”.
However, it was “a very anxious time for the team” as people had to be stood down, job roles changed, and unfortunately, several people were let go.
As for her personal experience? “I had to make quite a few adjustments to the household budget, and was prompted to start my own side hustle to supplement my income.” She also took parental leave from September 2020, to January of this year — something that would have been paid leave, but in this case, was unpaid leave as the company “couldn’t afford the support,” prompting Breen to spend all her savings to support her growing family. “It was tough, but we managed.”
“Lifesaver”, is another adjective used for JobKeeper — particularly those who work in tourism, who are reliant on international travellers. Adam Ogle, a business owner of tourism company Welcome to Travel, says the scheme meant they could keep the team (which he describes as “passionate, young and competent”) together in a year that yielded “near to no business”.
It kept their business relevant, allowed them to look to the future, and continue to work together on exciting projects “on the other side.” And mentally? “[It] was a huge thing for us as it kept us motivated despite the current situation still being dire.”
12 months later, now that it’s ended, Breen thinks it “was abrupt, and not very well planned out.” In her opinion, there needs to be more assistance for companies still heavily impacted by COVID — outside of just the tourism industry, who have had an incredibly tough time of it.
This is something that Ogle knows all too well — who says businesses in the tourism space “are still working in near to identical situation as 12 months ago.” He laments over the fact there is no timeline on borders opening, and the only other option is loans — and questions how this is viable.
“How can the industry not be supported? We’ve been supported for the first 12 months, so why take us this far and cut off the support now?”
Breen believes that “many good locally owned companies will need to liquidate and start again because the impact is simply too heavy a burden to carry” — something that ABC News agrees with, saying that the scheme “may have been propping up businesses that won’t survive.”
She’s already felt the impact of it ending, as she’s just been made redundant — and the company is going into liquidation. And with a new baby, and two mortgages to cover, she calls it a “very anxious time” for her husband and herself. Dr Cullen expands upon this, saying the “uncertainty” will have the greatest impact on people’s mental health.
“Constant uncertainty” is something that Ogle feels, saying the lack of JobKeeper “takes away that feeling of safety.” More than that, when they’ve not had any positive news for the last 12 months, “We always have to carry that mentally”, which is both draining, and stressful.
Both Breen and Ogle have plans moving forward, that differ greatly due to industry. Breen is acting as a consultant for her former employer and is using entitlement payments to invest in her own business. Ogle’s day-to-day looks very different, and involves lobbying the government for a wage subsidy to be returned to the travel industry — if it isn’t, he claims it could be “catastrophic.”
Dr Cullen does have advice for how people can take care of themselves mentally during such a turbulent time, which includes “Staying active, exercise, being proactive regarding other job opportunities, seeking support from friends/family, seeking clarity from your employer.”
If feelings of overwhelm are taking over, Dr Cullen suggests to “see your GP for a referral to a psychologist, or contact a service such as Beyond Blue.”
For the hundreds of thousands who may find themselves now searching for work, he says that “The number one focus should be to have a very well thought job-seeking routine and be proactive regarding job opportunities,” but acknowledges this is difficult as employment opportunities are limited.
In addition to the aforementioned suggestions on taking care of yourself mentally, he says: “Don’t be too hard on yourself” as these are “tough and unusual times” — and thousands of people are in the same situation.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.