Life on the breadline: Australians in poverty share their stories.
July 7, 2018 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Life on the breadline: Australians living in poverty share their day to day lives
Once I have been paid, I have money for that day and perhaps the next if I am lucky. After rent, electricity, phone, gas, internet, registration for the car and petrol for college there is no discretionary income at all. Notice that I haven’t included food. That is because I buy that last with whatever is left over.
According to the latest Acoss (Australian Council for Social Services) poverty report, in 2014 there were 2.99 million Australians living below the poverty line. Of those, 731,000 are children. The Guardian Australia is running a series of stories by these Australians. Meanwhile, business groups, economists and charities are united in their call for an increase in Newstart, the most standard payment offered to jobseekers.
posted by daybeforetheday (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
they live below the poverty line, defined by the Australian Council of Social Service as $343 a week for a single person to live on after housing costs(.)

Let's do the math, min wage in the US is 7.25, for 40 hours a week. So you have 290usd before rent for a full time job at min wage. That turns out as 390aud. Take the rent out and having a full time job in the US is the same as being on the dole in Australia. If you have impossibly cheap rent. And let's not forget, no-one lists healthcare as an expense, because if you get sick and can't afford it then

♪The government will pay for it𝅘𝅥𝅯

This is not to say there's nothing wrong with our system. It's true that we need to give people on welfare more money, because we don't want poverty here.

This is like people in the UK complaining how the NHS is broken or too expensive. This is sometimes misunsterstood as saying the NHS needs to be ended. No UK politician would ever suggest this, unless as some stunt.

I just felt that I needed to point this out to the predominantly American audience here, for whom our welfare system is some kind of socialist porn.
posted by adept256 at 7:24 PM on July 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

Here's an ABC podcast on the same topic: Is Australia one of the worst places to be jobless?
It's interesting, but to my mind, as they often do, fails to go nearly far enough and actually look at real changes to anything.
Tweaking the dial back and forth while people die.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Lucky Country, eh?
posted by KazamaSmokers at 8:25 PM on July 7, 2018

Could we not talk about the US in this thread about Australia please? Newstart absolutely needs to be increased, and the comparison to the US is a complete distraction.
posted by saltbush and olive at 8:56 PM on July 7, 2018 [32 favorites]

Sure we could not talk about it, but this isn't news to me. I've lived in Brisbane for 35 years, I know what it's like. I was offering a comparative perspective, perhaps to preempt some assumptions.

You're right too, we can't treat people like this.
posted by adept256 at 9:22 PM on July 7, 2018

The Lucky Country, eh?
Increasingly, the second forgotten part of that quote.
posted by Pinback at 10:16 PM on July 7, 2018

But the second rate people currently running it are doing their best to *not* share the luck.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:32 PM on July 7, 2018

What kind of bugs me about the welfare conversation is how it's distributed and how our conversation always seems focused on just 5% of the welfare bill.

From the 2010 federal budget with total spending of $343 billion, we spent $110 billion on welfare programs, about 1/3 of our budget.

Of the total welfare spending, $34 billion was spent on support services (assisted housing, first home owner grants) while the remaining $76 billion was given in direct cash handouts! Which seems like an amazing amount of money - 1/4 our federal budget given away in cash welfare.

But only a tiny fraction makes its way to Newstart recipients, which is the focus of this article. There are 6.2 million cash welfare recipients. Compare this to a total workforce of 11.2 million - 7.9 million full time workers, 3.3 million part time workers.

Of the 6.2 million welfare recipients, only 500k of them are Newstart recipients. Collectively we give them $5 billion dollars per year - roughly $10k per year on average. You can napkin the math - the full benefit is about $14k-$15k per year for someone with no other income, and it gets reduced on a sliding scale based on other income sources. 56% of the Newstart recipients indicate that the Newstart payments constitute their primary income.

Where does the other $71 billion in welfare cash payments go? In order of size -

$28 billion goes to the 2.2 million age pensioners ($12k per pensioner)
$21 billion goes to 1.7 million parents ($12k per parent of child)
$14 billion goes to 0.8 million disabled (and their carers) ($17k per disabled)

Newstart is a tiny fraction of our total welfare bill, less than 5%. But it's odd that it seems to dominate the conversation - both from the point of view of people saying we should reduce welfare, and also from the point of view of people saying we need to increase welfare. Maybe part of it is just the people having the conversations (mainly young people) and who they identify with.

There's also stuff like "investor welfare" (not part of expenditure, it's revenue forgone) like negative gearing which comes to about $11 billion a year. We could triple Newstart payments by just getting rid of negative gearing, which imo is a no brainer - negative gearing is just the government rewarding investors for making bad investment decisions.
posted by xdvesper at 10:55 PM on July 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

Newstart: not to be confused with New START.
posted by el io at 11:38 PM on July 7, 2018

Newstart is by no means only restricted to young people - they're excluded from it. I think it's not so much that only Newstart, Youth Allowance etc are talked about, but that they're some of what is most commonly labelled as welfare. As I'm sure you're aware, a lot of people involved in those conversations seem to have trouble indentifying some sorts of welfare, like negative gearing, as such.
I think maybe it's also unambitious goals on the left and targeted division and distraction from class lines on the right that contribute to these tendencies.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:41 PM on July 7, 2018

Ah I meant "young" people as in, well... even 40-50 is considered young, medically speaking. You wouldn't consider them an "old" person yet. (as you can guess I still think I'm young and I'm getting to 40 myself, sigh).

Also another sign - the data is from 2010! It was a long time ago that I last looked at this. I should update those figures...
posted by xdvesper at 1:34 AM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Newstart, or the dole, has changed in my lifetime from an allowance that would allow you to live, albeit in poverty, or close to it, to a series of administrative burdens designed to make continued dependence impossible.

The $290 a week Newstart (add some rent allowance on top) leaves little dignity, and limits recipients options to improve themselves. No surprise that the standard move everywhere is to qualify for the slightly more generous pension payments - either via disability, single parent, or eventually, aged. But the pension payments don’t expect progress via retraining/education or whatever, and don’t readily support it.

So we have a system that is incentivising people with limited earning options to qualify for a welfare payment that doesn’t support them to expand their potential. While the payment that has at least some support framework (ok, very limited) languishes in declining value and overburdened administrative requirements that are spirit breaking.

Truly, a system that wasn’t so much as designed as evolved into a ruin for people trapped in it.
posted by bystander at 2:01 AM on July 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

Thanks for this post, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:43 AM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

The other difficulty in comparing our economic situation to the Americans' is the difference in the purchasing power of each dollar. This weekend, fuel prices in Adelaide were AUD $1.60/L, which is US $6.056/gal. Dollar for dollar the $US goes so much further in its native land than the $AUD does here.
posted by MarchHare at 6:35 AM on July 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Mick Smart, one of the individuals profiled in the series, writes beautifully about his experience. I honestly hope someone notices that and gets him writing more.
posted by cooker girl at 6:37 AM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Newstart is a tiny fraction of our total welfare bill, less than 5%. But it's odd that it seems to dominate the conversation

Newstart dominates the welfare conversation for the same reason that boat arrivals dominate the refugee conversation: it's as easy to demonize "dole bludgers" as it is to demonize "illegal arrivals" and the Tories and their media enablers do so love their handy demons.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 AM on July 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Mick Smart:
I have been with multiple job agencies for three years and not even once have we discussed a potential job. My life is full of seemingly endless and ultimately pointless appointments, and every fortnight comes with a reminder of “mutual” obligation activities – volunteering, mandatory job searches, bogus training programs – all with an assessed work capacity that seems to disregard my medical condition.
I've been on one of those bogus training programs (in order to gain a "Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment"). It was a complete and utter waste of time. The trainer was an ex supermarket manager who appeared to have no clue whatsoever about what we were actually required to do for the purposes of assessing our "competency" at the pointless useless tasks he was allegedly "training" us to perform. Even so, I seem to recall we all "passed". I have never seen a more pointless box-ticking exercise in all my born days; I have certainly never been able to use the resulting "qualification" in any way.

When I was closer to Mick Smart's age, being unemployed in this country was a fairly straightforward process. You'd turn up to the Department of Social Security and sign up for the dole, they'd send you next door to the Commonwealth Employment Service, and some reasonably helpful staffer there would do their best to help you find a job you could do. The payments were always inadequate, but the process was helpful rather than punitive and both the agencies involved were staffed well enough that they could actually deal with their case loads in some reasonably timely fashion.

Then the CES got broken up and privatized (by a Tory government, of course) and turned into something called the "Job Network", which is a disorganized mess of cowboy outfits who "compete" to place job seekers in jobs; there's a complicated set of subsidies payable to these outfits for assorted steps in that process, all of which are now thoroughly gamed and have lip service paid to them at best. Your chances of actually finding work via your local Job Network "provider" (assuming you even have one anywhere near locally) are slim to nil, but you have to keep showing up there anyway or Centrelink (which is what the DSS mutated into) will breach you and make you wait weeks with no income whatsoever.

And of course, having eliminated the CES in favour of something far less effective, far more complicated and far more expensive, the empty suits in Canberra have had to "find savings" at Centrelink, which essentially means sacking about two thirds of the staff and thereby grossly overloading everybody still mad or dogged enough to keep working there.

The elephant in the room of Australian unemployment is that for most dole recipients the plain and simple reason why they're on the dole is that THERE ARE NO FUCKING JOBS FOR THEM TO DO. But that's a narrative that no Toorak silvertail is ever going to buy into, so instead we just accuse the unemployed of being lazy bastards who insist on contributing to their own misery (if only these scruffy oiks would just educate themselves! More chardy, darling?), and we keep piling on endless new kinds of bullshit "mutual obligation" requirements that let us keep breaching people who get too exhausted to keep complying.

Centrelink and the Job Network are so fucked. Medicare works 1000x better.

And don't even get me started on Centrelink's illegal automated harassment program.
posted by flabdablet at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2018 [13 favorites]

xdvesper: "There's also stuff like "investor welfare" (not part of expenditure, it's revenue forgone) like negative gearing which comes to about $11 billion a year. We could triple Newstart payments by just getting rid of negative gearing, which imo is a no brainer - negative gearing is just the government rewarding investors for making bad investment decisions."

Yes please. Can I vote for you in the next election?
posted by saltbush and olive at 6:20 PM on July 8, 2018

I was on Newstart for a few months between Uni and my first job (15 years ago when I do the maths, turns out) and it was awful. I had been getting Youth Allowance for my last year of Uni* which had been pretty much hassle free, and all of a sudden I was transferred automatically into this hell of mandatory training and log books and job centre visits. They automatically changed the centre I had to visit away from one I could get to on the bus to one that was technically closer, but would have taken a couple of hours to get to on public transport. The Job centre was equally inconvenient, and took one look at my degrees and told me that they couldn't really help me, but I still had to go every week.

I was living at home and had very little by way of expenses, so the money was really not necessary, it just seemed silly not to take it. It was utterly demoralising though, and I hated it. I've been pretty paranoid about staying employed ever since, as it was such an awful experience. I can't imagine how distressing it would be to have to be completely dependent on the very small payments.

*Whilst living at home. It was a bit of a rort. I could declare myself independent because I'd worked fulltime for a year, but again, had I very little expenses. It meant that I didn't have to work during my last year, which was nice, as I was doing honours and the work load was pretty nuts.
posted by kjs4 at 9:14 PM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Never have I been more grateful for taking out Income Protction Insurance when I started teaching 25 years ago. I thought it was a waste of money, and each year hemmed n hawed about dropping it. But my (employer-provided) financial planner insisted it was more essential than health insurance at that stage at my life, as a person with a new mortgage and a dependent-at-the-time husband. After 15 years of teaching, I was diagnosed with an illness that deeply affected my ability to work full time, and meant many periods absent from work. I was able to draw on my IPI and every time I read about how people with illnesses are treated beaurocratically here, I feel so grateful for it. Not simply for the income, but for the dignity I can maintain as an under-employed person in this country.
posted by honey-barbara at 3:32 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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