Students are no strangers to being kicked in the guts by successive governments who offer underwhelming changes to what little income support they are entitled to. The latest increase of 6% to Youth Allowance may look good at a glance, until you consider the fact that inflation has breached 7%. There is, however, an additional dimension to the perpetual Centrelink struggle, with many students not even being eligible for support in the first place.
From the age of eighteen you can get married, vote, drink alcohol, and be tried as an adult before the court. It’s an arbitrary threshold, but one accepted as the benchmark for independence across Australia. All but except in the eyes of Centrelink, where you’ll still be considered ‘dependent’ until you surpass the age of 22.
Whilst you are considered ‘dependent’ any application you file for Youth Allowance will consider the income of your parents, which will entitle you to nothing if your parent’s income is above a set threshold. The issue with such a benchmark is that it ultimately fails to account for the character and expenses of your parents, you don’t choose to have apathetic parents and you don’t choose the number of siblings you have to compete with, yet in the eyes of Centrelink you’re undeserving of any support regardless of such.
This discrepancy forces countless students across the country into making the uncomfortable choice between living at home in a family environment they may wish to escape, or into a situation where they must work an absurd number of hours a week, often in entry level minimum wage jobs in order to survive. These are crucial hours that could’ve otherwise been allocated to studying.
This arbitrary age of independence is a cruel benchmark which has challenged millions of students across the country at one point or another, a challenge some have taken on to find loopholes, with one such loophole being none other than marriage.
If you are married you are considered ‘independent’ in the eyes of Centrelink and any subsequent application you file for Youth Allowance will consider the combined income of you and your spouse as opposed to your parents. Despite being unconventional, this isn’t illegal.From the age of eighteen you are legally allowed to get married and Centrelink cannot turn down a marriage certificate or deny that you may really be in a loving marriage with a fellow bludger.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a case of two flatmates in Newtown getting married in order to meet the threshold for independence in 2008, news.com.au reported the case of a student from South Australia getting married in order to increase his entitlement in 2010 and in late 2022, two students tied the knot in front of parliament house to dually protest the age of independence and qualify for an increase in their allowance, with the wedding being attended by Greens MP Stephen Bates.
The aforementioned examples are case studies in which the married couples have chosen to go public about their circumstances. There is little doubt in my mind that many more ‘welfare weddings’ have taken place over the years and out of the public eye. Marriage is not something most people would seek to engage in for fun, but when the age of independence remains as high as it is now and the dilemma for students who dare wish to live on their own is between studying or starving —it’s an obvious solution.