All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


Anti-Poverty Week: Poverty in Australia, a national disgrace

We set ourselves this first goal: by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.
~ Bob Hawke (launching the ALP’s election policy, 23 June 1987) ~

575,000 children or 17.3% are living below the poverty line
~ ACOSS report into poverty in Australia, 14 October 2012 ~

Earlier today I spent four hours writing a post about what it is like to live in poverty. I deleted it following a disagreement with a hallucination over the validity of two sentences. And yes, I’m more than aware of how that sounds! Why do you think I live in poverty?

Yesterday, the Australian Council of Social Services released a report that revealed 2,265,000 Australians are living in poverty. For every eight people there is one who is struggling to make ends meet and survive in a country that doesn’t care about them.

And if you think that is being over-the top:

Last week the Australian government changed their policy regarding single-parenting payments. This change will force an estimated 100,000 people onto the (already impossible to survive on) Newstart Allowance. This will reduce their overall benefit by at least $65 a week and increase the criteria they need to meet in order to receive payments; apply for so many jobs per week, attend regular personal contact interviews with Centrelink, attend regular appointments with Job Service Providers, perform numerous somersaults through flaming hoops as and when required by the Australian Government with no thought to the cost and availability of childcare in Australia.

For years, the Australian Government has steadfastly refused to increase the Newstart Allowance (which has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994) despite overwhelming support from social services, charities and homeless providers. It is currently undergoing a parliamentary enquiry.

Last year, the Australian Government implemented new Impairment guidelines in an effort to reduce the number of Disability Pension recipients. The new guidelines meant that “four out of every 10 people who qualified for the Disability Support Pension earlier this year [2011] would not qualify under the new regime”. Thus, forcing mentally and physically ill individuals to fund their treatment on the (already impossible to survive on) Newstart Allowance.

Why is all of this happening? From the point of view of someone living in poverty;

a) To ensure a budget surplus to please the voters (who matter) ahead of the 2013 election.

b) Because poverty is something that the voters (who matter) don’t understand.

c) Because poverty is a problem that requires a university-level education to fix and the current crop of Australian politicians dropped out of the education system after graduating kindergarten.

My journey into the world of poverty began in 2007 following a breakdown, serious physical health problems and multiple forms of abuse. In an eighteen month period I received no income (including benefits) and had to sell my worldly possessions in order to survive. For the three years between March 2007 – March 2010, I received seven months of income.

Since 2010 I have been existing on the Newstart allowance, with nothing to my name bar a few clothes and assorted oddments. The sole value of my assets is approximately $50 (a figure Centrelink deemed “too low” so rounded it up to $500 on their system)

In these two years I have had to balance serious mental illness (Bipolar, PTSD and severe social anxiety), physical illness and homelessness. I have had to regularly choose between accommodation, food and medication. On one occasion I had to choose between accommodation and eyewear (I chose to repair my glasses as without them, I’m blind). I am able to purchase clothes once a year; repairing the three T-shirts, two shirts and one pair of jeans I own as best I can. I have become so adept at fixing shoes with cardboard and glue I firmly believe I’m descended from Elves.

Yet through all this I’ve had to endure ill-informed abuse from Australian society, large swathes of which believe I am a lazy, good for nothing, dole bludger who deliberately chooses not to work so as to sustain my rich lifestyle courtesy of the hard-done by taxpayers. All of whom believe raising the Newstart Allowance will discourage people from looking for work as the current low payment acts as an incentive to find gainful employment.

Yet never has anyone been able to explain to me why someone willingly chooses to live $130 below the poverty line (at the current rate of the Newstart Allowance)

I have written in the past of the inadequacy of this benefit. Asking obvious questions that have yet to be sufficiently answered, such as: how does someone find a job when they can’t afford to keep a roof over their head, get a haircut or buy essential clothing, shoes, hygiene products or medication? The reality is the current rate of Newstart is acting as a disincentive to find work as it is impossible for a person to improve their own circumstances whilst entrenched in a ‘life’ of housing stress, financial insecurity and social isolation.

In the last two and a half years, although my housing situation has improved, my mental stability is now lower than it has ever been in my entire life, and yet because of rent, bills and food I cannot afford to run the heater when it’s cold or a fan if it’s too hot. I have to endlessly watch my electricity use, remembering to switch everything off before I go to bed in fear of exploding bills. I can’t go anywhere social. I can’t use public transport. I can’t even afford to fill the three urgent prescriptions I’ve had stuck to my fridge for the last two weeks. If I did, I would have to starve myself for the week and/or render myself at-risk of homelessness through non-payment of rent.

This is the life of someone living in poverty. These are the choices people in poverty have to make every day.

I’m not writing this post for pity or sympathy. In all honesty I actually have it better than most.

I (currently) have a roof over my head and although I haven’t had three meals a day since early 2007, I normally have enough food to eat a basic meal each day, even if it is just a tin of baked bins, bowl of rice or pasta, two-minute noodles or the occasional treat (once a month) of meat and fresh fruit/vegetables courtesy of the food bank.

Although it’s tough, with careful budgeting I’m able to save a dollar or two a week for a ‘treat’ every three/four months (such as a cinema outing, second-hand DVD or presents for family) and I continue to donate small amounts to charitable causes because you have to help people who are worse off than you.

In late 2009 I was sitting in a park in Melbourne with a choice to make. I could either kill myself or accept that my life was never going to get any better than this. For if I allowed myself to dream of a better future, just for a second, the pain would have torn me apart. With the intervention of a homeless man, I chose the latter.

But that ‘decision’ is something I should never have had to make. No-one should be forced to choose between suicide and a life of continuous pain and misery, but people are having to make that choice every single day.

In a country as rich and prosperous as Australia, it is a national disgrace that 12.8% of the population is ‘living’ in poverty. But this anti-poverty week Australians shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves, nor should they be engaging in a ‘debate’ over this issue.

They should be committing themselves to rectify this disgrace once and for all.