According to this article on the ABC, our Federal Families minister, Jenny Macklin reckons she could live on the dole.
The dole is currently about $35 per day.
Now, normally when someone in a position of privilege or power says “oh, I could live on the dole”, they tend to mean “I could certainly live on the dole for about a fortnight; let me just stock up the cupboards first”. Or they mean “sure, I could live on the dole – I’ll just rely on my partner’s income”. Or else they mean “I’ll visit friends and family a lot”. Or they mean “oh, I’ll just restrict the amount of money we’re using for a bit; I don’t want to have to go inside a Centrelink office”.
So I have a “put your money where your mouth is” challenge for Ms Macklin. Sustain your family for six months minimum on an income no more than the full dole payment for a pair of partnered adults (rent assistance and pharmaceutical allowance permissible as additions if you’d qualify for them, but nothing else). Comply with all the requirements Centrelink has for receiving the dole while you’re at it – so both yourself and your partner have to be looking for work, both yourself and your partner need to make regular visits to a Job Network provider and undertake the training and jobsearch requirements they insist on, both yourself and your partner have to make regular income reports to Centrelink (I’ll be nice – you don’t have to do these using the fortnightly forms handed in at the nearest Centrelink office; you can do the online submissions or phone submissions instead).
Don’t use your family, your friends, your political colleagues, your media contacts, your political contacts or your tertiary or professional networks as a source of support, employment opportunities, or any form of assistance. You’re surviving on Newstart – just Newstart.
Ms Macklin should feel free to ask the various public servants in the Department of Human Services what the actual requirements for someone on Newstart are at present, because complying with those requirements are part of the costs of getting the dole – you’re expected to pay in humiliation and frustration for the payment you’ll receive. Interviews, fortnightly inquisitions to ensure you’re not defrauding the poor innocent taxpayer, the full claim process wherein you have to supply details for Centrelink regarding all of your finances, all of your assets, and all of your possible sources of support. Oh, and the joys of navigating the Centrelink phone system, which at times quite frankly qualifies as one of the levels of hell all on its own.
Update: The Greens have challenged Ms Macklin to live on the dole for a week. See above for why I feel that wouldn’t be a true test – the thing that hurts about living on Newstart isn’t doing it for a short time period, it’s doing it for months and months, week after week after week of scraping and scrimping and trying to pinch the pennies hard enough that they squeak.
Categories: culture wars, social justice
And what are the chances of having something break down during a one-week experiment, or the power bill needing to be paid, or any unexpected event that doesn’t hurt so much when you’ve been working, but is financially crippling when you don’t have any savings because you’re living hand to mouth, week to week?
Right on. It reminds me of my own skepticism about those campaigns where people live on $2 a day for a week and get people to sponsor them – yeah, that’s easy enough if you’ve already got a roof over your head, a car all fuelled up, and all you have to worry about is buying some pasta at coles.
All I see this doing is forcing more people into working in the first under-paid position they can find, likely in sub-par conditions that can’t be flexible around whatever other committments (children, healthcare, etc) they might have. And that’s not going to help anyone either, because contrary to what a lot of privileged people seem to think, any job is often not actually better than no job.
That’s exactly it – people who are living on centrelink payments are often forced to live paycheck to paycheck, because there simply isn’t enough money to put anything aside – and then when you are hit with something unusual (like a car breaking down, or a dentist’s bill, etc), all of a sudden everything goes down the drain and you have to scrounge for money off friends or family if you have them, or take out loans or pay it on credit, and that’s the start of the whole spiral into debt and more debt.
I couldn’t agree more, Megpie 71. I’m continually infuriated by statements such as Ms Macklin’s.
My partner and I have spent the majority of the past four years on Newstart, and it’s been crippling, financially. It’s also been humiliating and frustrating, particularly dealing with the Job Network and with Centrelink’s requirements. I’ve been studying part-time for most of this period (attempting to get a degree started, in and around near-crippling bouts of depression). I’ve been told bluntly by the coordinator of one Job Network office that I should quit my studies (computer science) and put in my resume at Woolworths because “the government won’t pay for it”.
I’ve spent four years scrimping and saving, attempting to feed the pair of us on hamburger patties, gravy beef, pork belly rashers and whichever vegetables are cheapest. We’ve been spending winters huddled in blankets and swathed in layers, summers wiping ourselves down with a wet cloth to cool down (no air conditioning in our house, and even if there was, we couldn’t have afforded to run it), and living largely on pasta, rice and other cheap carbohydrate (because it’s cheap and it’s filling). I’ve scraped and scrimped odd bits of change to try and find the money for new underwear (in particular, a new bra).
My partner and I have both wound up taking jobs which were offered because we had to – they were legitimate offers of employment, and they were within 90 minutes of our home. In both cases, the cost of running the car meant any benefit from the wages for these jobs (not much over the basic amount of Newstart in the first place) vanished down the petrol tank. In both cases, the jobs wound up impacting on our health (I wound up having a nervous breakdown; he’s had existing type II diabetes exacerbated), making it harder for us to get employed again in future.
My partner wound up getting a full time job which pays a decent wage earlier this year, but due to various inconsistencies with payroll and similar, we both wound up getting into debt with Centrelink as a result. I still can’t afford to pay them back, and given Himself’s contract ends soon, we may well find ourselves back on the Newstart poverty-go-round, with even less money to spend on things like food, petrol, public transport fares, and so on. Our sole “entertainment” spending, if you can call it that, for the majority of the past four years has been what we pay for our internet connection and phone. Our rent has gone up again (to the point where if we go back on Newstart, the vast majority of our fortnightly payment will be spent on paying the weekly rent).
It’s been about two years since our car was last serviced. Due to a minor windfall this year, we can afford to get it done this year.
Six months minimum duration on these sorts of “stunts” lets the people involved experience at least one round of bills (power, water, gas, phone), at least one change of seasons, and probably at least one incident of something breaking. It gives them a chance of really seeing how hard it’s done.
I am a 55 year old male on single Newstart Allowance. After paying my rent I have $150 per FORTNIGHT to cover food, phone, and transport. All necessary items for jobsearch. I do not smoke, drink, or go out to movies. I have a social life of virtually zero. I have been trying to find work for over 7 months. The Newstart allowance does not cover my expenses.
I have slowly sold off all of my assets including my old 1992 model car just to get extra funds to live and seek work. No employers seems to want an older person. I am on the way to homelessness as once my funds from asset sales deplete I will be evicted. In an attempt to delay this I have taken to frequenting shopping centre food halls and competing with cleaners to retrieve and eat other peoples left overs.
I have not purchased any clothing for over 6 months as just one item will destroy my budget.
Are politicians and others who have never been unemployed seriously suggesting that I can live well on Newstart AND maintain a dignity and motivation to better myself when all of my experiences are depressing?
You seriously have no idea what it is like.
If she were to live on the dole for a week, it would have to be arranged that she had little or no money in the bank and had at least some of these things come up: rent/mortgage and/or utilities were due; she had to buy petrol or public transport tickets; had to attend interviews; was out of essential items; had some sort of medical expenses arise.
I notice in The Age’s article it says, “As a cabinet minister, Ms Macklin earns $6321 a week, 25 times the rate of Newstart.”
I’d change the wording. She gets paid that much. I very, very much doubt whether she (or any other parliamentarian) actually earns such a ridiculous amount.
Great post, Megpie.
One of the conditions of Ms Macklin’s stint on Newstart MUST be that she swaps her car for a fairly old and well used car which can’t just be trusted to stay alive and functional for 6 months.
Helen: I’d go a bit further on that one. One car for the whole family, maximum value approx $6000. Other than that – public transport all the way. No taxis. No Comcars. Hey, I happen to know there’s at least one bus in Canbrrra which will drop her off pretty close to the Reps entrance for Parliament House. Of course, she’ll have to walk from the bus stop in all weathers, but that’s just par for the course when you’re unemployed.
Great question from that journo. Can’t answer “no” because that’s not supporting the govt’s position, have to answer “yes” and get a drubbing. I note that Macklin tried to re-position the discussion to “getting people back into work”: a dog-whistle to the people who think single parents are work-avoiding bludgers.
It’s just like the 90’s: when I was ashamed to be Australian.
Excellent post. There is an update to the ABC report here, with many comments similar to those above.
Thoughtlessness followed by a disingenuousness. A gold-medal effort from Jenny Macklin.
Echoing the “excellent post” comments – especially the aspects of frustration and humiliation in dealing with Centrelink. I’ve had minimal dealings with them (for carers payment) but they’ve all been soul destroying.
My suggestion doesn’t address that, but Macklin’s background is economics. I think she should be required to produce a 12 month budget for a family of 3 – one parent and 2 kids aged 8 & 13. It allows no savings, but any entitlements. Must cover education expenses (including uniforms and excursions), at least one emergency failure (broken fridge, car breakdown or similar), rent in a major capital city, job seeking costs (including clothes, transport, phone, internet, child care costs for out of school hours interviews etc), food, utilities and so on. Then I’d be convinced she’d really thought about this. Well, excepting the hell that is job seeker requirements of course.
Her budget should also allow for the purchase of a greenslip and rego for the car she would use for transport.
I think Macklin should have to live on the dole for 6 months along with three of her colleagues and 4 Liberal pollies. Both parties need to realise what they are forcing people to do. I think the Greens are a little more compassionate so they get a pass on this one.
shonias – I think that’s an excellent suggestion. It’s something that she could actually do (or get an advisor to do anyway).
There’s no way in practice that she’d actually be able to take six months off work to experience on being on the dole and the week long experiences are pretty much just media stunts because they are so unrealistic. And you can put up with a lot of pain if you know its only for a week.
I’m very surprised that she answered the gotcha question at all – politicians are normally much smarter than that and just avoid answering (which she tried to do at first).
For bonus points, she needs to be on three regular medications, one of which isn’t on the PBS, and need an episode of emergency dental care. (For double bonus points, her family catering plan needs to allow for, say, one family member with coeliac disease.) And hell, while we’re at it, let’s make one family member be over size 22, meaning there’s bugger-all chance of dressing them off the rack at Vinnie’s.
Newstart allowance is $244 a week, right? Does that include rent assistance? I’m just wondering, because max Youth Allowance and Austudy payments are $244 a week as well, including $80 rent assistance. So it’s actually a lot more people who have to live on that sort of money than just unemployed people, which adds an interesting dimension. Of course, YA people like myself don’t have to do the whole job-seeking thing and don’t have to deal with centrelink as regularly, so that would make it a lot easier. What about earning a bit of money on the side, is that allowed under Newstart?
As someone who used to work for Centrelink (in their “unemployed persons” section too) and as someone who used to be on Newstart:
* Yes, if you’re on Newstart and renting accommodation, you’re eligible for rent assistance. I’m not so sure whether they pay rent assistance to persons who are occupying their mortgaged property (it isn’t called “mortgage assistance” after all) – if they do, it still tops out at $80 per week extra.
* Yes, you are able to receive Newstart as a “top up” payment while you’re employed and earning a very low income (and if Centrelink knows you’re working damn near full-time hours and still receiving Newstart payment from them, they may even waive your obligation to attend the interviews and perform the job search). You can also be eligible for Newstart benefits and perks (like the Health Care Card and similar) if you’re on a nil payment from Centrelink for up to twelve weeks (which is good if your employment – or that of your partner – is mostly the sort of short-term three month contracts which employers appear to favour so much these days, because it means you don’t have to go through the full claiming process from go to whoa each time your contract doesn’t get renewed).
Basically, the main differences between Youth Allowance/Austudy and Newstart are that firstly, if you’re on Newstart you’re probably between the ages of 25 and 40 (once you’re over 40, you’re on Newstart Mature Age); secondly, if you’re living with your parents and on YA/A, their income counts toward your limits on assets and money earned; and thirdly, if you’re on Newstart, you’re expected to do a lot more with regard to visiting Centrelink and Job Network in order to justify your time on benefits. Oh, and if you’re on Newstart and you start full-time study, your benefit dries up like spit on a hot stove unless you’ve put in your claim for Austudy well before hand (and if Centrelink loses your claim form some time between when you handed it in and when they were supposed to process it… well, that’s just your problem. Submit a new claim form and stop whinging!).
 No kidding, this has happened to me.
This is why I was looking forward to your articles on Hoyden, Megpie! Very well thought through post.
When Senator Siewert was doing the Newstart challenge, I heard her saying in a radio interview somewhere (cannot remember where now, possibly ABC somewhere?) that one of the hard parts of low income living is doing it long term because you can’t just defer big expenses forever.
I’m now on a Disability Support Pension but used to be on Newstart until they recognised my claim. Being on the DSP is hard; but being in Newstart is harder – money wise and because of the humiliation and hoop jumping. Newstart made my disability worse (and a significant number of people on Newstart should really be on the DSP), put me through hell and I dread the day Centrelink review my DSP and decide to maybe put me back on it.
I haven’t been to the dentist in more than seven years. A year ago I realised I needed to see one; I’m still saving up for it because a lot of medical stuff has occurred in the last twelve months. People who’ve never relied on an income payment from Centrelink have no idea what it’s like. They say, “I could do that, easy,” ignoring unplanned medical, utility, life expenses.
Jenny Macklin has no possible clue and it’s so insulting. Even rather conservative organisations and individuals, like Judith Sloane, for example have been saying Newstart is inadequate. They’ve been saying it for years.
Being on Newstart long term (and through no fault, most recipients are not bludgers) affects a person’s mental and physical health, their life options, social interactions, educational and job opportunities, and overall quality of life.
So I have a “put your money where your mouth is” challenge for Ms Macklin. Sustain your family for six months minimum on an income no more than the full dole payment for a pair of partnered adults (rent assistance and pharmaceutical allowance permissible as additions if you’d qualify for them, but nothing else).
If I may add a wrinkle to this, I would say 2D4+4 months – ie, six months to a year – but, and this is the part that’s important to me, she doesn’t get to know how long it’s going to be.
So while yes I agree with everything said here I can’t help but notice the general lack of outrage amongst feminist groups over the changes to the sole parent’s benefit. Most sole parents are women and are often in very difficult circumstances dealing with difficult partners, little or no child support and are also often fleeing dangerous, abusive or difficult marital circumstances.
Yet the middle to upper class, well educated, empowered female feminist politicians in Canberra have dismissed this very disadvantaged group on the grounds that they are failing to provide a good example for their children by being on the SPB.
The SPB provides a safety net for (mostly but not always) women who need to attend to the needs of their family, who may not have adequate child minding ie in high school and for all the reasons stated above who also need to look after themselves, find accommodation, move schools, move house etc etc without the assistance of a partner and possibly in fear of a partner.
Is 8 years, old enough to be home alone for long hours? If for example there is no child care or family support and where an unemployed person is expected to work any job given that turning down a job would be considered a problem if on Newstart etc. in comparison with being on the SPB.
So feminism is not a monolith sure I get that, isn’t it a voice that should be loud and angry when the interests of vulnerable women are being ignored and trampled on?
Colette, outrage and disapproval of those changes to the sole parent’s benefit have been expressed reasonably often on our Media Circus threads. I certainly agree with everything you say above.
Thanks I am sure you are right except that it seems I would have to realllly look for it, I couldn’t see it anywhere and whilst I believe you, it is there somewhere, I would have expected more…from all feminists on this one. And if one has to search around for some outrage on this issue then it isn’t really big news. I just felt it needed saying coz it passed through parliament without a hitch and I am so very disappointed and indeed saddened by it.
I agree with Colette. The feminist sphere (Hoyden’s Media Circus aside) has been spectacularly silent on this. I would have thought that the duplicitous timing of the Gillard government’s changes to SPP legislation – i.e. that it was passed on the same day as Julia Gillard’s hyper-famous misogyny speech – would have peaked the interest of some feminist writers and bloggers. But I was wrong.
Apart from one uppity journalist’s embarrassing question to Ms Macklin, the media have shown almost complete disinterest in the devastating rippling effect on some of society’s most vulnerable members. How can the passing of this legislation be raised to the level of reasonable media debate and scrutiny if feminists treat it as a virtual non-issue?
This legislation is arguably one of the most misogynist in Australia’s political history. Rather than asking Ms Macklin and other supporters of the legislation if they could live on less than $40 a day, perhaps we should be asking how they would feel about receiving a 33% pay cut – which is effectively what $60,000 grindingly poor Australian families, most headed by women, are facing right now.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism of it on Twitter, much of it directed towards Gillard and her ministers directly via their official Twitter accounts. In terms of direct engagement with politicians, I have sadly concluded that Twitter is often more effective, but mostly only in the short term – it’s harder to get momentum for many users to tweet at their targets regularly (sustaining the momentum is something that Destroy The Joint does do admirably well).
Sometimes when one has spent several hours tweeting and retweeting an issue on Twitter, writing a blog post as well seems like overkill. That’s probably not necessarily the most effective way to keep an issue alive for a longer time though, now that I look at it harder.
Hmm sorry tigtog but I think if people….feminists … generally felt strongly enough on this then there would be no sense of overkill.
I am wondering if this is some sort of class divide where the more empowered feminists groups like politicians and policy makers have forgotten that socially disadvantaged women still face enormous struggles, don’t always marry enlightened men and have signifiicant barriers to education etc. When powerful women actively increase the burden on this group and dismiss their plight you have to wonder.
Or is it an extension of the tensions that exist over the role of women as mothers and the assumption that fathers must share the load equally forgetting that in a large section of society this is not a reality and may in fact be dangerous for both mother and children. Which harks back to a class divide I suppose.
Yes there are some blogs out there talking on this issue but not the call to arms that I expected.
Colette, I sense that you feel we have failed you in not personally writing on this. What can I say? I’m actually surprised to find that we didn’t do a post specifically about it at all last year, because I really thought that we had, since we’d all been discussing it so much on social media, and frequently tangentially referencing it in other discussions.
I wish more people took advantage of the option to pitch guest posts to us on matters they wish to see discussed here, rather than relying on us to cover it to their satisfaction and apparently beeing dissatisfied for months that we have not done so. Your description of the problems earlier in the thread was eloquent and forceful, for instance.
Collette, as part of the “feminist blogosphere”I can definitely say that my criticism was directed directly to Macklin rather than the world at large. You think without a blog post it’s nothing? Well then. I await with anticipation your creation of your own blog, your well-researched and well written post on the topic, and your link to it here.
There is definitely an assumption of, if not class divide, at least group membership divide, within the supporters of the legislation. I had a loooonnng Twitter conversation with some of the upstanding Men of Labor the other night. Apart from being soul destroying, it was very interesting to see that they could not conceive that I might be arguing in favour of a group to which I don’t (currently) belong, nor have I ever (because I’m extraordinarily lucky). I’m not silly enough to believe that I never will. In the end, they accused me of lying about self interest and that was that.
THEY definitely assumed that feminists didn’t care because feminists believe all women should be in paid work. Because feminists believe that’s the One True Way to womanly happiness. They threw that at me over and over. However, in the little bubble I inhabit, every feminist was outspoken about this one way or another. I guess the fact that they had such clear expectations means some women are meeting them, some probably call themselves feminists, but it’s not the ones I know.
Ariane, sounds like they’ve forgotten (if indeed they ever knew) that feminism is a very broad church indeed, and supports not only the women who want to work full-time for a career, but also the women who wish to be at home when the kids get home from school.
I’d also argue that, as a woman who identifies as a feminist, the empowering thing about work isn’t “being forced into taking the first pink-collar low-wage job that comes along because otherwise my Newstart gets cut off for breaching the rules”. The empowering thing about work for me, as a woman, is that I can choose to do something other than one of the traditional “feminine” occupations of nursing, teaching, domestic cleaning or retail. I can choose to take up a job which is actually identified as being very “masculine” in identity (such as computer technical support) and do very well at it once everyone around me stops expecting me to be thinking with my ovaries rather than my brain.
But this is heading into a crossover with Beppie’s post on the pay gap and the gender gap, so I’ll leave things there.
Sorry Helen not sure what you are talking about. My post was on the one hand was supporting all the great reactions to Macklin’s silly, middle class assertion that she could live on 35 dollars per day but on the other hand wondering at the general lack of outcry regarding the changes to SPB. It was not an attack on Hoyden in any way nor a criticism of the post.
I never understand why wondering out loud is seen as an attack. I support and encourage mothers participating in the workforce always. I do despair though at the assumptions made by the privileged that single mothers, particularly those I described above, can do the same thing as partnered mothers or those with family support or just generally stable circumstances.
I think that any movement, regardless of the diversity of views within it, must undergo some self analysis. I think there is a lack of commentary on this issue and I am wondering why. If anyone finds this offensive then I shan’t comment further.
So I suppose my outward musings lead me to the question, is there a class divide within feminism or is it differing views on motherhood that leaves this issue relatively untouched? Or is it nothing at all and we should all move on?
Colette, I’d agree that there is a class divide within feminism, and further that this class divide has always been with us. And yes, I’d agree that this is something organised and academic feminists haven’t really been keeping on top of.
It’s also a subject for a different post (heck, it’s probably a subject for a doctoral thesis for a historian or academic feminist) rather than something which can be adequately addressed in the comments here. Keep your hair on, though – I’m working on one!
As the ‘class divide’ has routinely been used as a weapon against feminism to supposedly illustrate its lack of relevance/decline/failure/etc and as an incitement for women to sling mud at one another, I’m wary of applying it to this context.
The great silence on the Parenting Payment/NewStart issue has not only come from the feminist sphere, but from the entire media and community at large. What has occurred here is much the same as when the retirement age was raised from 62 to 67 by the Rudd government with virtually no media debate other than a few unchallenged op eds about drowning under a deluge of grey tsunamis, and hardly any community consultation process whatsoever.
As a society, we’ve been ground down by at least 30 years of welfare demonisation to the extent that we have almost completely lost the political will to defend it. We are so used to having the welfare issue framed as a drain on the ‘innocent taxpayer’ (to quote Megpie) that virtually all sense of welfare responsibility has been deprogrammed out of us.
In this context, it’s no great mystery that the feminist sphere right across the Western world has been less than proactive in fighting the war on welfare (disguised as ‘austerity measures’), despite the fact that women make up such a large proportion of welfare recipients.
I’m nodding here at the last couple of comments. Speaking of cross-overs – the only conversation I had on Twitter regarding this topic where I felt we were both listening to each other was really about mother guilt. As such, I linked to Tigtog’s “Most of our choices, as women, are looked upon with scorn” post. It was well received.
So I’d say, Colette, that it’s more the internalised guilt that we’re all doing it wrong (because if you don’t have kids, you’re doing it wrong, and if you do have kids, you’re doing it wrong) more than differing views on motherhood. We desperately need a lot more people to say what TT said in that post in the mainstream media, because IME, it’s the one feminist message that cuts through almost immediately with most women. We all feel we are being judged negatively for the choices we make, and we all know academically that everyone else is too. Put those two things side by side in front of people and it’s so obvious. The trouble is, even obvious finds it hard to compete with a lifetime of indoctrination. And to try desperately to drag this back on topic, this affects politicians as much as everyone else. Jenny Macklin should be outraged by her party’s decisions, but she’s got the same internalised crap as everyone else.
Thanks,very interesting and thought-provoking comments.
….and apologies didn’t mean to derail.
Colette, you made very good points. No apologies necessary.
Kudos to Belvoir Street Theatre for their Peter Pan giveaway for single parents who’ve just been moved on to Newstart:
‘LITTLE bit harder’??
While I appreciate the Belvoir Street gesture, this wording is woefully understating the situation, to the point of insult.
A close relative of mine is one of the 80,000 affected parents. Her world has virtually imploded as a result of this legislation – which wipes out one-third of her income. Due to a Family Court ruling, she is locked into a regional area where her tertiary degree and work experience are all but useless for her to obtain employment. She is entirely dependent on Centrelink plus whatever low-skilled labour she can find in the area (plus whatever assistance comes from friends and relatives).
A portion of whatever she earns goes to her ex, who owns his own million dollar home outright, while she struggles to pay rent. He works entirely for cash and charges $120 per hour, but his ‘declared’ income is below the Child Support earnings threshhold. She cannot afford to take him to court to have his earnings reviewed, so she can do nothing about it.
Moving to NewStart means that she has no choice now but to share her house, even though she rents a tiny two-bedroom house and has two children. She is now moving into her garage in order to make room. Although she has tried housemates before to save money, they have not worked out, as they have brought all kinds of low-income-despair related problems with them – drugs, violence, alcohol, mental illness and disturbed children who end up bullying her own children.
I could go on and on … But suffice to say that for people like my relative, this legislation is not ‘that little bit harder’. It’s catastrophic.
iorarua, your relative’s situation sounds grossly unfair. I’ve just tweeted the ATO to ask whether a prosecution by them for cheating on taxes via undeclared income automatically triggers a Family Court/Child Support earnings review, and if not then why not? Because the ATO does, I believe, take anonymous tip-offs regarding those who try to hide income from them.