The realities of welfare

the realities of welfareThe above image is just one of many memes that is shared around the internet about people who are on welfare aka Centrelink, although this is only one of a few that isn’t racist.  Centrelink payments are my source of income.  While I do complain about the lack of money I have, I also know how lucky I am to be in a country that offers these payments, without them I don’t know where I would be.

I hate that there are so many people who are taking the system for a ride, who have no qualms about lying to a system that is there to help those in need.  These people make it so hard for those of us who are doing the right thing, who don’t lie and who genuinely struggle to make ends meet on the money they receive.  I have to admit that I do have it easier than a lot of other people on Centrelink payments because I am in government housing.  I don’t have to pay $300+ a week for the house that I live in, and for that I am grateful.

I am on a Disability Support Pension, I have been receiving these payments since I was 19.  Did you know that a single independent person with no children under the age of 21 receives almost $300 less than someone over the age of 21 with the same circumstances.  Last time I checked person aged under the age of 21 still has the same bills, still pays the same amount of rent and still has the same living expenses as someone over the age of 21.  I struggled a lot with the payment I received before I turned 21.

Once my rent was paid I then had around $300 to last me a fortnight.  The money often ran out by the end of the first week.  The food I had managed to buy usually ran out about 3 days before I was due to receive my next payment.  I admit that I was a lot more careless with my money back then.  However $300 doesn’t go far when you rely on public transport, often taxis because of a ridiculously lacking bus system, to get you from place to place.  There were times when I didn’t go to the doctor when I was sick because the closest bulk billing doctor was a $16 taxi ride away.

Did you know that Centrelink payments are not always paid at midnight on the day of payment?  Sometimes they are, more often though it is closer to 2am before the payments reach your account.  How do I know this?  By the time payment day arrived I was usually starving, I hadn’t eaten anything substantial for nearly two days and I would stay up until my payment went into my account so that I could get something to eat from the nearby 24 hour service station.

This was in the time before I had a smart phone, before I had internet banking and so I would walk to the service station, which thankfully had an ATM of the bank I banked with so that I didn’t have to pay fees to check my balance.  Sometimes the first time I checked my account there would be money in there.  Often it wasn’t.  I couldn’t hang around the service station because I had no money, I looked too suspicious.

If there was no money in my account on the first check I would then walk into the city, a 20 minute walk and check my account again at an ATM there.  It was usually around 12:30am by this stage.  I had no fear, or more accurately I didn’t care what happened to me.  Usually the money was in my account by the time I walked into the city.  Even if it wasn’t I would walk back to the service station to check my account again.  I did this back and forth trek 4 times one night, my payment finally in my bank around 3am.  Looking back I have no idea how I managed to do it with nothing in my stomach, how I wasn’t attacked by someone, how I didn’t run into trouble.

This post might seem like a bit of woe is me about the conditions I lived in but it’s not.  It’s a reminder about the way that some people live.  It’s a reminder that not everyone who is on welfare are bad, that most of them are just trying to live from payment to payment.  I just ask you one thing, next time you want to tar all of us with the ‘dole bludger’ brush, to think about those of us who are doing the right thing.  Those of us who are probably going without food or clothes for ourselves so that we can provide for our children.  Those of us who are just trying to live with what we are given.  Not all of us are taking the government for a ride.

Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

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30 thoughts on “The realities of welfare

  1. Lydia C. lee

    To be honest, I believe it is the responsibility of a civilised society to look after all members of that society, with food, shelter and medical care. I will admit, when I was working full time I would have moments looking at my pay slip’s deducted tax and think “That’s a wage right there!” but you know what, I was still left with a lot, and had to say to myself ‘but for the grace of God, go I’.
    I saw a doco on a man who became homeless in about 6 weeks. It was amazing how quickly a persons world can unravel. So before tax payers sit in judgement, we need to rethink the issues.
    In the same way some people evade tax, some people will abuse welfare, but should everyone tarnished with the same brush?
    Even the bludgers are not really living the high life, are they? We need to make a better system if we have issues, not take away money and support.
    That all said, I’d still rather my tax went on roads, hospitals, education and welfare rather than Tony Abbotts wage.

    1. Tegan Post author

      Have you heard the song ‘underwear goes inside the pants’? One part is about a homeless person who is begging on the street.
      “A homeless guy asked him for money.
      He looks right at the homeless guy and says why don’t you go get a job you bum.
      People always say that to homeless guys like it is so easy.
      This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants.
      Outside his pants. I’m guessing his resume isn’t all up to date.
      I’m predicting some problems during the interview process.
      I’m pretty sure even McDonalds has a “underwear goes inside the pants” policy.
      Not that they enforce it really strictly, but technically I’m sure it is on the books.”

      I agree that the system has flaws and that the way they are trying to dissuade people from being on welfare only hurts those already doing it tough.

  2. Patrick Weseman

    This is a hard one for me. I grew up on welfare here in America. I watched my mother self-medicate by drinking, smoking and drugging her way to some sort of mental state. I resented her for not working. Since, she passed away, I have learned (by research) that she had a serious mental illness.

    I think the majority of people who receive welfare need it and use it wisely. There are some that will abuse the system.

    On the other hand I think people (unless they are disabled in some way and can’t work) need to do something for it. Go to school, work an internship, create some kind of art or music, just try to improve themselves. As someone who works I special ed in a state school, I have trained kids to fold pizza boxes, sweep and other tasks that they can use in a group home setting.

    1. Tegan Post author

      I think there will always be people who abuse the system, which is sad. Here in Australia they are trying to put things in place to stop people spending the money on drugs and alcohol instead of food for their kids. However I am yet to see anything so far that won’t just make even less money for the kids. Those stuck in the cycle of drug addiction, aren’t going to stop because their kids are missing out, if they did I am guessing that they would seek help. It’s a simplistic way of looking at it I know..but a person stuck in the cycle of addiction generally don’t have much insight to those around them.

  3. Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit

    Great post. Very thought provoking. I am a big one for ensuring all members of society are looked after and I am very proud of the Australian tax system for allowing that to happen.

  4. Eleise @ A Very Blended Family

    I was a single mum on welfare for two years. To be honest I was absolutely shocked by how much assistance I was entitled to. When I moved in with my husband our finances were much much worse and we had to cut everything we could. I am extremely good with money and I never ran out. I do think that many of our poorest people on welfare often lack ability to manage money. The basic dole is not a lot of money but we also have to encourage people to work. I find the age discrimination thing with our welfare system strange, like you said a 20 year old and a 22year old have the same bills! A great post Tegan!

    1. Tegan Post author

      I was pretty stupid with my money a lot of the time before I had Mr 4..and sometimes I wonder what the hell I did with my money. I budget pretty well now and we very rarely go without the things we need. We are never without food though, even if I have to absolutely scrape together the bare basics from my pantry.

  5. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    NZ also has a very good welfare system while there are a few who take it for granted, most don’t and in fact most people I know would prefer not to be on welfare but circumstances have changed and they have no choice. It’s a tough life and I agree, society is WAY too quick to judge those who get financial assistance. I have to make sure my hubby and I are never out of work because as Kiwis in Australia, we weren’t entitled to any benefits, unless we become citizens, which we have to pay $1000s for or meet a points system which we probably won’t meet. x

    1. Tegan Post author

      I have a friend who lives in NZ and I was impressed when she said that Gym memberships were part of the welfare system.

      I couldn’t even imagine the stress you must have in the back of your mind knowing that there is nothing to fall back on.

  6. Kathy

    Honest and though-provoking Tegan. Welfare is a complex issue – I’m glad we have a system that cares for people who need it, and mental illness is a big part of why people need it. I think the basic dole is impossibly low for people to survive on and an insult to people’s dignity, yet I don’t know what we can do to stop generational cycles of welfare dependence in families (and communities) where work is almost foreign and our education and training system can’t seem to lift children out of this vicious cycle – money is not the answer. Well done on breaking down stigmas.

    1. Tegan Post author

      I have said to Paul quite a few times that there is no incentives for people to break the cycle. A person loses a lot of things that make their life easier once they begin to earn money and so sometimes it is easier to stay on centrelink benefits.

  7. Sheridan @Me and My Ready Made Family

    Great post Tegan! I have been known to generalise about people on “welfare” because I know quite a few who have taken the system for a ride (and are still doing so right now!) but of course not everyone on Centrelink payments are bludgers.
    It is good to have a little reminder of what it is really like, and how unfair the system can be sometimes (why do your financial commitments change at 21? Curious..)
    Visiting from #IBOT

    1. Tegan Post author

      I know people who have taken the system for a ride too and it makes me so angry because it is people like that who make it so much harder for those who need to the services to access them.

      I find the age of 21 thing strange as well. A person is considered a dependent in Centrelinks eyes until they are 21 as well.

  8. EssentiallyJess

    Great post Tegan. I think it can be too easy to paint someone as a bludger because we haven’t taken the time to understand their circumstances, and that’s really not fair. I was on a sole parent income for a while and it was hard. I remember quite a few times scrounging through all my change to find a few dollars. Thankfully I never had it as hard as you though. 🙁

    1. Tegan Post author

      I had it hard, but I know that there were a lot of people who had it harder and I am glad that I only had myself to look after. It’s one thing to not have enough food for myself but it would have been another all together to have no food for a child.

  9. Bec @ The Plumbette

    Unfortunately we live in a fallen world and there are many who assume it’s their right to rort the system. Those that are vulnerable or who are unable to work must be looked after. This is such a pure and honest post of what it is like from someone doing the right thing. Thanks so much for sharing Tegan.

    1. Tegan Post author

      Yes, I hate the line of thinking that people have that it is their right to get as much as possible from the government, even if it means doing so through lying.

  10. Toni @ Finding Myself Young

    After dad died we lived off a sole parent pension for quite a few years. My mum was so desperate to make things last she would get all the little left over bits of soap and squish them together to form a new cake so we didnt have to buy more. She also used to put buckets in the shower to catch the water and use that to flush the toilets. It taught me how to be quite frugal and now I’m very good with my money so I guess it was a good life lesson.

    1. Tegan Post author

      Wow. I am so glad that the place I first lived in supplied a lot of stuff. Props to your mum for not only surviving it but passing on valuable lessons to her kids.

  11. Alison

    I really don’t give two fracks if some people abuse the system. So what? What does that have to do with making sure everyone in Aus has enough to eat and somewhere to sleep? Do we really imagine for one second that rich people earned their wealth? What a joke. Most of them got their money from their parents or sheer blind luck. Psychopaths earn a lot of money because they don’t give a damn about other people. Are all rich people psychopaths? No. But plenty are. Regardless, there is not one human being alive on this earth that deserves to have hundreds of millions of dollars. Not one. I don’t care if they are raising people from the fucking dead 7 days a week for a living. So sick of the haves and have nots. Most of it is pure and simple luck of the draw. And I speak as someone who has ended up drawing lucky.

    This world is hugely wealthy. There is no reason. NO REASON. Why a single person should be hungry, without heat or without a roof over their head. And I don’t care what they do or don’t do for a living. We’ve been sold a lie that the poor are undeserving and the rich are deserving. It’s bullshit. Rich people are lazy, rich people steal, rich people lie – every bit as much as the poor. And again, I speak as someone who lives the nice life with the nice house.

    Have you ever seen this? It’s a great video on how wealthy people are basically thieving scum with a false sense of entitlement.

  12. Emma Fahy Davis

    I can relate to this, only I wasn’t self-aware enough to realise that I looked like a bum hanging around the servo waiting for my payment to clear!

    We’re in a similar situation to Emily in that we don’t qualify for Centrelink as we’re Kiwis (altho we are in the process of applying for residency under a loophole that takes into account the time I spent living here as a child). It wasn’t an issue for the first three years, we both worked and paid the taxman piper, had 4 kids in childcare and paid the piper there too. Then Mercedes got sick and I had to give up work. She qualifies medically for the Carer Payment, and our income is below the threshold for a Health Care card, but we receive neither as we’re not entitled on residency grounds. As a result, my husband works 70 hours a week to pay the rent and there have been several occasions in the past six months when we’ve relied on food parcels to feed the girls. For us it’s situational – I have post-grad qualifications and an established career to return to once Mercedes’ health permits – but for so many families there is no way to break the cycle of poverty. Complaining about those on welfare (or as we call it in NZ ‘bene-bashing’) does nothing to help these families, it merely stigmatises them and makes it even harder for them to climb out of the hole.

    Thank you for your honesty. It helps break down those stigmas.

  13. Kirsty @ My Home Truths

    Thanks for sharing this Tegan. I support welfare and believe that the majority on welfare are not abusing or rorting it in any way. It is a very necessary safety net for those who need help – especially those who cannot work due to ill-health or disability. I wish compassion would be the flavour of the month again for everyone to eliminate the stigma for people who truly have no other choice. That compassion could also flow to asylum seekers while we’re at it…

  14. Becc

    Once again it is a great reminder not to judge others. If you know they are doing wrong then there is a problem, but if you are judging without knowledge, then it is you who has the problem.

  15. Chantell

    A great, thought-provoking and honest post 🙂 I am in a very similar situation to you, Tegan ~ I am on the Disability Support Pension for reasons of mental illness, and I live in public housing. I am a single parent to four children, and because of my severe anxiety/depression, I have been unable to work for many years now. It is something that I feel embarrassed about, and has made me feel ‘less worthy’ next to other parents at school, or any other adult altogether, even though I know I have a valid illness, and I would never ever judge another person who was in my shoes, so to speak……Yet I still feel it… It is a shame that there are those people who do abuse the welfare system; this makes it so hard for those of us who honestly do need the help. Thankyou for sharing, and helping others, like myself, to feel less alone.

  16. Aroha

    I have a couple of friends who always whinge about what people on welfare get, and I think you know what, I’d rather work and have a better lifestyle than be on welfare barely getting by, IF getting by at all! The amount of money the govt thinks people can live on is ridiculous. But I agree the people who are seriously taking the system for a ride make a bad name for those who are really struggling. I think the govt needs to figure out how to catch those people out and take their money and disperse it amongst those who really need it. x


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