Newstart recipients have $17 a day to live off once their accommodation is paid for, leaving them under extreme housing stress, paying bills late and struggling to feed themselves and their families, research shows.
The Salvation Army says the government's repeat failure to increase the dole in the federal budget has placed further pressure on the charity to help those Australians experiencing such "devastating" daily hardship.
"In the past, people would come maybe every few months when they got an unexpected bill; what we're finding now is almost every week people just can't meet living costs," Salvation Army major Paul Moulds told AAP on Wednesday.
"I think the desperation is greater and the struggle is worse."
More than half the 1267 Salvos customers who participated in the 2018 Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS) said their financial situation had become worse over the past year.
Federal Liberal MP Julia Banks earlier this month claimed she could live on the $40 a day for a single person without children looking for work provided by the Newstart allowance (NSA).
However this was rebutted by many including Labor leader Bill Shorten while former prime minister John Howard recently said the 24-year freeze on the rate had "probably gone on too long".
A rare alliance of business, industry and community groups were pushing for a $75 rise to the NSA pre-budget.
Mr Moulds said they will continue to push for an increase given the "huge difference" it would make to vulnerable people seeking help, including decreased emotional stress and the ability to purchase more food.
He said the government's argument the fortnightly payment is for transitional support, not to live off, is flawed.
"The people who come to us are often beaten down by life," he said.
"They need to be in a mind space where their confidence, their self esteem is okay ... (and) they can focus their attention and energy on looking for work rather than trying to survive each week.
"In some ways that low payment works against their capacity to be able to go and convince an employer that they're in a state of mind and able to get a job."
THE SALVATION ARMY'S 2018 ESIS
* 95 per cent of households under the poverty line
* Four of five respondents privately renting/paying a mortgage spend more than half their income on it
* A disposable income of $435 per week becomes $21 a day after accommodation costs
* Those on Newstart left with $17 to live off a day
* More than two thirds cite food affordability the greatest day-to-day challenge
* More than half can't pay phone, gas or electricity bills on time