profile of lukeryan

The 35 dollar a day challenge

Quietly, quietly on January 1st, and with barely a murmur of concern or outrage, the Labor party – the once were warriors of the working class and aspirational poor – shifted some 100 000 single parents (by which you can read almost exclusively 'single mothers') on to the Newstart Allowance. For most of them, this involves a pay cut of somewhere between $60 and $100 a week. And why? So Labor could pursue a budget surplus which not a single economist or policy expert has ever said we needed and which they now, after avoiding the inevitable for more than a year, have abandoned entirely.

And yet, the single parents remain hung out to dry. Families Minister Jenny Macklin was even heard to opine that she could indeed survive on $35 a day, and this from a woman who earns $900 in the same 24 hour period. Maybe she just feels a bit more relaxed about it because her own children are fully grown. Perhaps they could lend her some money in a pinch. The Greens decided to up the stakes by challenging her to do this for a week alongside their own Adam Bandt, which is much of a muchness as far as modern political theatre goes, but it remains a quite astounding faux pas – although one notable primarily for the fact that it directed any attention whatsoever toward this unnecessarily cruel shift in national policy. 

Now, of all the many tragic abasements of the modern Labor Party, surely it does not get much worse than this. Single parents? Really? I mean, I used to be a uni student and we would bitch incessantly (and justifiably) about the minuscule allowances of modern welfare, but at least we were young, healthy and had about as much financial obligation as your average patch of moss. But even we had a union to bitch and moan on our behalf. The single parents in our midst aren't quite so lucky. Because who's arguing for them? Charities? Ain't nothing going to make a modern Australian turn off quite like hearing a charity telling them what to think. The problem is, these days we hear single parent and we think "poor life choices/probably blows all her money on ciggies/having babies to get cash from the government/welfare cheat". Even if we don't think those specific things, we've grown up in a culture where single parenthood is overtly maligned, to the point where arguing for more support for single parents would probably be considered politically toxic.

Yet, as the old adage goes, what are we as a society except for the way that we treat our most vulnerable people? And here I'm not even talking about the single parents themselves, but rather the entirely dependent children they have responsibility for. Kids who need food/comfort/shelter/transport/schooling/clothes/a modicum of the life that the rest of us took for granted. How exactly does any of that fit into an amount of money that wouldn't even stretch to buying a week's worth of fresh produce?

The problem with $35 a day is that it actually sounds like quite a bit. Obviously it's not Sultan of Brunei style riches, but the concept of $35, a small stack of notes sitting in your hand, feels like a reasonable amount. You could buy all sorts of things with $35. Like a meal. A tram ticket. Maybe even have something left over to give to the guy asking for money outside a McDonalds. Hell, we hear all the time about people in far-flung African nations subsisting on $1-a-day. What are we complaining about?

But when you break it down, $35 becomes an almost comically small amount. For instance, I'm a young, unmarried, dependent-free male and as I sit down to write this piece at 10.30 in the morning, I have already spent $29 on daily rent for a room in my ramshackle terrace house that I share with three other people. I then decided to buy a coffee which almost takes me over the edge and definitely doesn't leave enough for a tram ticket. The other $2.50 I would probably blow on a bag of pasta, which I could survive on for a couple of days, if I seasoned it only with salty tears.

However I imagine I could, if I needed to and didn't care about the massive hit to my quality of life, survive on $35 a day. I could move to a distant suburb, where the rents are more affordable, and live away from work opportunities and the support networks of family and friends. Not having a car, mobility would become a defining factor of my existence, walking and public transport consuming over two hours and $11.84 each day. I would become newly enthusiastic about instant coffee. Leisure would be a long distant memory, cent-by-cent savings plans a new nighttime activity. Still, I could do it, for a while. Such are the benefits of being young, unmarried and dependent-free. If I had two, or three children? The mind shudders.

[I actually did, a few years back, go on to Newstart for six months. I was unable to work or study due to illness so was shifted on to the Newstart – Incapacitated category of payments. Having moved back in with my parents, which covered rent, bills and petrol, I actually lived a relatively comfortable existence, but it was still a rare fortnight that I didn't find myself watching my bank balance in the hours before new money arrived.]

We spend a lot of time, as a society, fulminating over what's good and bad for our children. This is only natural. Societies are, more or less, structured around the idea of having kids and then protecting them for long enough that they can become the next generation of said society. Yet so often these discussions operate in abstract realms, where the debate reduces down to questions of ideology or instinct – see contemporary arguments about sexualisation or the digital world – while the practical problems of raising and protecting our children as a whole is left in the dust. 

Much of this is surely a symptom of privilege. We are so rich and so generally well-off that the problem of impoverishment itself has become largely abstract. Due to lack of social and financial support, single parents find themselves pushed out into invisible suburbs, where opportunities are less and escape becomes ever harder. They're the sorts of suburbs where we can safely ignore them, or cluster them into a vague demographic group, all the same brand of welfare dependent no-hopers, completely oblivious to the myriad of reasons why someone might end up a single, unemployed parent. The abusive spouse. The unexpected death. The vanished partner. The disabled child.

And even if they were the worst of the stereotypes, would that justify stripping money from them? Or, more specifically, stripping money from the children that rely on them? I think not. We are, as far as the world's nations go, abominably wealthy. Despite global financial chaos, our economy continues to grow at a healthy clip. We in all likelihood have more people living a better quality of life with more safety nets than almost anybody else on this planet, or for that matter in history. But if we, with this almost absurd shared wealth behind us, cannot even find the money to help single parents and their children live above the poverty line, then what is it all worth? We're not Greece, so poor and debt-laden that we cannot even run our government. We have the money. We are instead making an active choice to arbitrarily punish some of our most needy citizens just so that the rest of us can feel richer. And maybe it's just me, but I think that to leave our most vulnerable children behind in a time of plenty bankrupts us a society and makes a hollow joke of our pretensions toward enlightenment. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but we ignore this too easily.

$35 a day. Could you cope?

10 comments so far..

  • CA's avatar
    Commenter
    CA
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 12:49 PM
    The worst part is how little child support most single parents are entitled to. Maybe if the government reviewed that crock of shit system then maybe the absent parent would actually HAVE to contribute to the financial responsibility of raising a child. The father of my kiddo pays child support once a year- when he does his tax and the tax office take it from his refund. $2000 a year is a pretty dismal contribution to raising a child. But it's cool, I'll just keep looking like some kind of beggar with my feeble single mother hand reaching deep into the tax payers pocket (note well- have job, am tax payer) and burdening the government because they refuse to do anything about regulating any kind of decent child support payment. It is entirely unfair.
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  • Major's avatar
    Commenter
    Major
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 1:07 PM
    The one huge problem I have with this article and everything said here is that it assumes that it is the government's role to look after single parents by giving them [x] amount of dollars per week and that, by reducing that amount, we are thereby 'abandoning single parents'.

    When the writer was having financial difficulties, his response was not to just subsist on the tiny welfare allowance that he received, it was to move back in with his parents -- ie he turned to his family and other support networks for help.

    Sure, not everyone is lucky enough to have friends or relatives that they can move in with during hard times, but a lot are -- and when someone is so alone that they have to raise a child without any support network, would an extra $60 per week really make that much difference to their wellbeing?

    I would bet no.

    The answer to that problem is to improve services to help them build networks and improve their lives generally. That's the kind of work done by -- gulp -- CHARITIES, and the rest of the community. Maybe the reason we don't want to hear from charities is because of people like this author who think that the answer to social problems is to throw slightly more money per week at them.
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  • CA's avatar
    Commenter
    CA
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 1:53 PM
    $60 a week is a huge difference, trust me. It is the difference between being able to pay rent/buy food/ get places. If you think that pushing single parents down into a continuing cycle of poverty is ok, then you pretty much suck. There are only so many people charities can help- because not enough people support the charities and they are only allocated a certain amount of funding per year. the government has also recently put changes to how funding is allocated to people through resources such as dept of human services who provide for families with disabled children- the needs testing requirements have changed and are not exactly making it easier to access any assistance. If the government is happy to continue pushing disadvantaged people further away from help then how is that going to benefit anyone? You think it's just people trying to get a free ride and $60 isn't a big deal- you clearly have no idea what it is like to be in a disadvantaged position. Lucky you matey.
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  • Major's avatar
    Commenter
    Major
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 3:39 PM
    "There are only so many people charities can help- because not enough people support the charities and they are only allocated a certain amount of funding per year."

    Well that's exactly the point. But you know that, and your solution is not "I'm going to go and volunteer my time to help-out a charity", or "I'm going to donate money to a charity and convince all those lovely Vine readers that they should do the same" -- it's "well nobody supports charities anyway, the government should do more".

    At the moment our system is that we take a large chunk of most people's salaries, then funnel that through our huge public service apparatus so that we can administer a pittance in welfare payments every week to people who are unemployed. Meanwhile, everyone else is thinking "well I've paid my tax and the government is going to take care of the single parents, so I've done my bit. Good luck to 'em".

    Then when unemployed single parents are struggling, all of you have the reaction that "oh, the government isn't giving them enough money" and not "what can I do to help?" So rather than people supporting each other as a community and doing things like volunteering their time, they spend their time complaining that other people aren't doing enough, safe in the knowledge that it's someone else's problem.

    The OP was essentially saying that yeah, raising a kid alone on $300p/w isn't great, but at least it's not $250p/w. Then when I disagreed with that, you read my post as "it's fine, they can deal with the pay cut". Your frame of reference is completely distorted, that's not the point I was trying to make at all. What I saying is that nobody should be left on their own to raise a kid on either.
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  • faithandmeow's avatar
    Commenter
    faithandmeow
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 11:15 PM
    You clearly have never had to struggle at the level that these people have, $60 a week is the difference between being homeless and having a roof over your head, between having food to eat, or going hungry, etc. In fact, for these people, even $5 can make that much of a difference, $60 would be life changing.

    Charities are overwhelmed everywhere - they do not have the resources to even help many who turn to them for emergency relief at the moment, let alone longer term solutions.

    Your compassion is seriously lacking.
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  • faithandmeow's avatar
    Commenter
    faithandmeow
    Date and time
    Thursday 03 Jan 2013 - 11:19 PM
    Most charities are mostly staffed,some entirely staffed, by volunteers.
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  • aussiehalfpint's avatar
    Commenter
    aussiehalfpint
    Date and time
    Friday 04 Jan 2013 - 7:15 AM
    Seriously It's not just unemployed sole parents who are struggling. It's ALL of them. I'm a sole parent and I work 8 days a fortnight to provide for my children. The rest of the time I'm trying to fulfill my parental obligations. I'm actually worse off under this new law than someone who doesn't work. 66%of sole parents worked already BEFORE this law and it's those parents you blithely say 'get a job'? I'd have to work 55 hours + a week to make up what I've lost in income and then where are my parental obligations? Running wild because there sure as hell is no daycare to look after them Then of course charities and tuckshops are no longer staffed ..it's because we're all bloody working! Wake up Australia this is a blatant cash grab from the government to one of the most vulnerable groups, given that I would be better off NOT working
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  • CA's avatar
    Commenter
    CA
    Date and time
    Friday 04 Jan 2013 - 10:30 AM
    Hey Major thanks for quoting me- I would go an work at a charity but seeing as I actually need help from charities to get by as a single working mother of a disabled child you can probably go and fuck yourself xo

    @aussiehalfpint yeah it's a complete joke. The government is basically saying "here, this is all you need to survive, have nothing- more you deserve to struggle, sucks to be you"
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  • aussie50's avatar
    Commenter
    aussie50
    Date and time
    Wednesday 09 Jan 2013 - 9:22 AM
    I don't have any opinion on whether it's possible to live on $35 a day, or whether there should be an increase in the allowance, but I do have a few queries and observations. Re the cost of rent, isn't there rent assistance? There used to be a way of getting refunds for the cost of travelling to job interviews if you are unemployed, isn't this the case any longer? Isn't there a family allowance which which would mean more money for the children?
    I saw an ABC TV item interviewing single parents about how they managed and one bemoaned not being able to buy chocolates and take the kids to the movies. As a taxpayer, can I say what I would like my taxes to pay for, in respect to the maintenance of unemployed people?
    -Affordable shared accommodation in an area where rents aren't high, plus shared basic services
    -Healthy home cooked food from fresh ingredients
    -Inexpensive clothing
    People naturally aspire to better standards and preferred options, but these should come when you are able to pay for them yourself, by getting a job. I don't want to pay for your entertainment and luxuries. I support your desire for them, but you need to earn them.
    Anybody watching the TV series about life in India for the have-nots? They really get off their butts to turn a buck.
    In my area of work, I come into contact with long-term unemployed. I'd say a considerable percentage have difficulty getting off their butts and many have a really regrettable sense of handout entitlement. I'm not saying all, but for those that do have the motivation to support themselves, life on the basic allowance should only be a short-term thing. I feel it should be just that, BASIC.
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  • Clair's avatar
    Commenter
    Clair
    Date and time
    Friday 11 Jan 2013 - 2:20 PM
    Hi! I was a single parent and know the conditions very well. Supporting a sole parent is socially beneficial for all - less traumatic for the child and for the mother - costing could be done on this to discover the cost of NOT keeping the child with the parent. Here I would like to link this possibility with the adoption scenario that was in the news last year. If you have read the stories or have had any personal experience in such a scenario you will know of the impact that such treatment has on the lives of all concerned and the consequent financial impact that follows.

    The amount of money paid is very low when taking into account the cost of living, rent - sure there is rent assistance which helps but it doesn't cover the rent. You might be lucky/unlucky and get some form of government housing. The cost is low in money terms but high in terms of social currency. This will give you the luxury of being able to afford a home without flatmates. They are essential to the paying of rent but it is not very good to have strangers (some of them very strange strangers) living with you and your child. With some it is downright dangerous. Being a sole parent places you in a very vulnerable position.

    Then paying for electricity and gas and phone bills, here there is also some assistance but unrelenting stinginess on the part of the user is essential. Never use a heater! Always dry clothes by air - have a clothes horse. Air conditioning is non existent and won't be in any rental accommodation you can afford anyway. Use a spray bottle of water and a hand fan which will cool you both adequately. A phone should be used only in emergency - consider the cost of every call before you ring. If it isn't necessary to have a phone, don't have onel

    There are rules for food buying - basics - make everything yourself. NEVER buy processed food, bottled drinks, or any form of sweets, chocolates or lollies - it is costly and unnecessary and you cannot afford to waste money on non-nutritious junk. Besides, these things will develop an appetite for more which you cannot afford. In a desperate situation - there will be many - you and child can live on wholemeal bread and peanut butter, brown rice and tofu, eggs and milk. Add some vegetables and you will survive, the child's teeth won't rot, (you won't be able to afford to visit a dentist anyway).

    Be ruthless in your refusal to have a pet of any kind. They cost money you cannot afford to spend.

    Four times a year major bills arrive. Save every cent for two months before the bills come. Walk every where, Never go to the movies or any form of entertainment where you have to pay. Once the bills are paid you can spend on necessary shoes and clothing for you and child. Make a list. A child can get by on three articles of each summer and winter outer clothing. Child should own one pair of shoes at any one time as they grow out of them very fast. Buy lots of undies. Buy only on sale. Always buy for the following year with the sales of the last ie summer sale for next years summer. This will require some tricky calculations re growth. Only moderate growth needs to be allowed for - child will not get fat. Do any alterations or mending yourself. If you have family (if you don't this is an act of God and is not to be remedied by an add in the newspaper) they should help with used clothing. They might also help with looking after the child if you are sick or if you are able to find work. This might be difficult if you don't have the qualifications or live in an area of limited opportunity (usually where there is cheap housing).

    On the subject of work and job interviews, ALL possible employers will ask you about your 'commitments'. They want to know if you will be attending work if your child is sick (this happens), and school holiday care. This might or might not be illegal but they ALL do it (possibly I would too if I were in their position) but if they have a choice between a mother needing to look after a child and a woman with child care back up they will not take the sole parent! Be prepared to be called a bludger and stigmatised as being on social security. It will happen a lot.

    It is essential that you monitor the use of TV and prohibit ALL commercial channels. They run adds for toys and foods and luxuries that you cannot afford. One small item for Christmas and birthdays is all you can afford. This must be made clear to the child constantly.

    School is a nightmare of holidays and fundraising activities and other children with status symbols that will make you desperate. (Allowing your child to visit other children from families better off is educational but will also reinforce their own impoverished circumstances.) You will never be able to give much and they will have difficulty understanding that $5 might make or break the budget that week. Stick with the education. It is the ticket out for a smart child. Make sure that they can read and write and do their basic arithmetic. (If you are unable to do this yourself may God help you and your child. There are some wonderful teachers out there and prayer and luck might get the help needed.)

    The health care card is wonderful. If you have a sick child being able to go to the doctor and get subsidised medicine is the most wonderful thing in the world. When my child was three the child got a nasty eye infection. All medical treatment was covered by the health care card and saved the sight of the child. I could NOT have afforded this. I pass on my gratitude to the government that gave me and my child such a gift. Thank you. May God help all those in the situation they now find themselves. They will need it.

    What politicians and others don't understand is that if you have only enough for the most primitive basics taking anything away is a disaster. You could take away $35 a day from a politician and it wouldn't mean much other than a status cut. Take this away from a sole parent and it means they loose one day a week of rent and food. The parent will go hungry rather than take food from the child that needs to grow. An adult will lose weight and feel the pain of hunger. The child will be damaged for all their future life and this will carry on for several generations in lowered health. I read about those that drink and smoke and gamble and drug away the money paid to them. I am sure that they exist. But for the sake of some to actively foster an under class doesn't seem to be socially desirable or advantageous to anyone. It is short sighted laying up problems for the future.

    I took advantage of the generous educational help and studied and now have work. I pay taxes. My child did well, attended a selective school (without coaching) and is working and paying taxes. Being STRONGLY motivated to succeed my child will make millions paying taxes on those millions. By the time my child is 30 years old, possibly sooner, the money paid to me will be returned to the government. Both I and my child have experienced the luxury of knowing and forming relationship with each other. Those in more financially secure positions take such a basic need/right as given. Do they particularly want to start another cycle of desperate poverty leading to adoptions and children in care? Of what benefit is this to anyone?

    The circumstances surrounding my becoming a sole parent still cause me deep pain. In all the demonising of sole parents in the media, I see my social self image degraded. I am hurt and humiliated and for no just cause. I did the best with what I had and am grateful for the help I received.

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