Stories behind the payments: Week of action hopes to raise the rate
16 July 2019 at 8:29 am
Bev’s life goal is to complete her bachelor’s degree in social sciences and psychology. But as a single mother surviving on Newstart payments, that dream often feels very far away.
Living in Sydney, by the time Bev pays for expensive rent, groceries, bills, and school costs, there is little left over.
“There isn’t any money left over for savings and you just feel like you’re struggling and slipping backward a lot of the time,” Bev told Pro Bono News.
She said that suffering from depression has made it hard to hold down a job while juggling study and caring for her son.
“I found that when I started looking around again for work, there was nothing that I could do that would fit in with my schedule that was really going to make me feel worthwhile or uplifted,” she said.
“It’s even more depressing to think about.”
This is just one of the many experiences of living on Newstart that MPs across the country will hear during the National Week of Action as part of the Raise the Rate campaign from 15 to 21 July.
The campaign, created by the Australian Council of Social Services and backed by over 70 community organisations, has repeatedly called on the federal government to lift the single rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and other related payments by at least $75 per week.
In the latest push, over 80 welfare recipients have registered to meet their local MP, with meetings held across the country from Sydney to Albury-Wodonga, Lismore, Cairns, and Townsville.
Along with MPs meeting with constituents, the week will include community forums, lunches, rallies, stalls, local councils passing motions, and people on payments sharing their stories.
ACOSS acting CEO Jacqueline Phillips said it was important that MPs met with people on the payments so they could see it was not working.
“At $40 a day, Newstart is not enough to get people through tough times and into suitable work,” Phillips said.
“Raising Newstart would change people’s lives and boost the economy. People on Newstart must spend everything they receive in order to get by so an increase to Newstart would go immediately into the economy.”
Bev hopes this week will not only result in a lift in the rate but squash the stigma around the reality of being a long-term welfare recipient.
“The majority of people on Newstart aren’t just bludging and not wanting to work, a lot of people who are on Newstart for longer periods of time have many, many barriers to work,” she said.
“They have health concerns, they have a lot of personal struggles, so it’s already tough. To then have that judgement and be labelled a dole bludger just makes it that much harder.”
Newstart recipients have to meet a number of requirements including following a job plan, and actively seeking work to ensure payments are not cut off.
Bev said it was sometimes a struggle to deal with the job search provider system and all the requirements that come with it.
“If you’re struggling with any kind of medical conditions or any other personal issues on top of all the other requirements, it’s really hard,” she said.
“The concern is that at any point if I fail to meet any of those requirements and they cut me off, I just wouldn’t be able to pay rent, I wouldn’t be able to look after my son and I would be homeless.
“That is a constant worry I have hanging over my head.”
She said an increase of $75 a week would mean not living below the poverty line, which she found both degrading and incredibly stressful.
“Living under financial stress for long periods of time really affects how you’re able to cope mentally,” she said.
“A raise would mean if you need to pay for medications, or go to the dentist, or go to the optometrist, it’s possible.”
While the government has stood its ground on the matter, saying there is no chance of a raise to Newstart and that the best form of welfare is to get a job, Bev is hopeful that the groundswell of action during the week will force change.
“It’s a big ask but I think if we can get the numbers and build a groundswell something might happen,” she said.
“Even if we can push towards getting a Senate inquiry, it would be a move in the right direction.”