It barely made the news. But today is the 25th anniversary of the last time Newstart was raised in real terms: March 20, 1994.

If you want to know what life is really like in The Lucky Country these days, head on down to your Centrelink and their so-called ’job providers’, where people are demoralized and denigrated as a matter of course. Gaining unemployment benefits can be a trial in itself; once you’re in the system a relentless pattern of harassment and bureaucratic rigidity turns being unemployed into a full-time job all its own… pointless interviews, endless lining up, calls that take an hour to pick up, if they don’t drop out before someone answers and you have to call again; an online reporting system that has a habit of failing on you or being ‘down’. Who cares? Hoop after hoop to jump through, you will learn.

Your maximum fortnightly payment?

Single, with no children – $555.70 per fortnight.
Single, with a dependent child or children – $601.10.

How much rent assistance might you get extra?

Single, 1 or 2 children – $161.14.
Single, 3 or more children – $182.00.

There are numerous tests, qualifiers, conditions and measures you are taken through. Keep in mind the above figures are a maximum. Of course there are also couples trying to manage what has happened to both or one of them; carers; people with an injury or illness. Whatever. If you’re lucky and make the grade you can try and live on somewhere between $550-700 a fortnight.

God help you if you do happen to have children.

The day-to-day reality is that most people on Newstart can barely pay their rent – and cannot afford to pay their bills, use public transport, or even buy enough food to eat. Stay on Newstart for long and systemic collapse sets in; a poverty trap mauls you. To enter this world is to enter the beginning of being ground down to nothing.

There are clear correlations between the criminally low rate of unemployment benefits and major issues like domestic violence; alcoholism and other forms of self-medication in the face of economic oblivion; and, in many cases, suicide, a final act provoked by pointless bureaucratic harassment and the malicious functionaries dishing out the demands. We are a country of great wealth – a country of inequities and injustices so appalling we should be ashamed. Newstart, Job Provider, Contract, Agreement, Client… perhaps soon we can use words like ‘human being’ and ‘dignity’.

Addison Road Community Centre will be working with the Australian Council of Social Services to run a campaign to ‘Raise the Rate’ in the lead up to the Federal election in May – watch this space.

Words by Mark Mordue.

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