Chris is 61 years old and lives in a rooming house in the outer-north eastern suburbs of Melbourne, which costs him around $304 per fortnight or roughly half of his $604 fortnightly Newstart payments.
“As far as rooming houses go, it’s not too bad,” Chris told Yahoo Finance. “It’s run by a professional group – a community housing group – and it’s got its own ensuite.”
He’s been on-and-off Newstart payments for the last decade, but he wasn’t always a welfare recipient.
“I got retrenched during the GFC,” he said. “And about six months later, the partner I was living with – we split up.”
“I was working corporate for the last 30 to 35 odd years before that. I was 17 years with Westpac and nine years with IBM, and then I got retrenched.
“I was sort of lower-to-middle management, and everyone was laying off people that were in lower-to-middle management at the time. To get another job doing that was pretty much impossible. It took me 12 months to get another job after that – and that was a customer service job, which was minimum wage.”
After finding himself unemployed again when the company shut down, Chris found another job, lost it, and found another job as a bookkeeper.
“That was a reasonably good job, which I had for about three years,” he told Yahoo Finance.
But after finding himself in hospital after suffering a depressive episode, he “got the sack” while he was there.
Now, Chris says he’s “given up” finding employment.
“I’m over 60; it’s virtually impossible.”
How much do you receive on Newstart, and what does that get you?
Typically, singles with no children on Newstart receive $559 per fortnight. In Chris’ case, he receives $604 per fortnight.
“I get $604 Newstart per fortnight,” Chris said.
“Rent assistance is $138, I get an energy supplement of $9.50, and a pharmaceutical allowance of $6.20. They also give me $30 for a phone allowance once a year or something.”
But by the time Chris sees his Newstart payment, “roughly half” of it goes to his rent, leaving around $300 for him to survive the fortnight.
“Once you’ve been on Newstart for a while, you can work out to feed yourself, but it’s not much,” he said.
“It’s not great, it involves sausages and mince, and chicken. And a lot of pasta and rice.”
Chris has two bills that he pays regularly: his car registration and his phone. “The place I live at, the gas, electricity and water is included.”
Though he has a car, he admits it’s “difficult” to keep it, with petrol being a big expense and two tires that need replacing for $300 that he simply can’t afford.
“This year, it was really difficult to pay,” Chris said.
“I’ve been drawing down on my superannuation, and there’s not much of that left. Every year I either get the Centrelink loan, which is around $500 once a year, and I can use that. But next year I’m not sure – I can’t afford it anymore.”
Living on Newstart: “It’s normal life things that you just can’t do”
While he can work out how to feed himself and scrape through to pay his rent, Chris said it’s the regular everyday things Newstarters just can’t afford to do.
“It’s normal life things that you just can’t do,” he said. “You’ve got no money for clothes.
“The chances of me having any sort of romance is zero – the possibility of me buying a woman a coffee – one coffee is $5 – that’s $10, which is three meals for me. There’s no chance of that.”
And Chris said he hasn’t had a haircut for eight months because he can’t afford it.
On top of that, since his car is such a big expense, Chris says he rarely goes far.
“I can’t go anywhere. I spend about $20 a month on petrol – I walk everywhere if I can.”
“It’s isolating. It’s difficult, you end up watching TV a lot which isn’t good.
“I go down to the local op shop, which is where I get all my clothes from, and I do that about four days a week. That gets me out of the house, and it gets me seeing people.”
Dole bludger stereotype “not the reality”
There have been calls for the government to increase Newstart payments by $75 a week, after the Australian Labor Party slammed the system for being ‘simply not fair’.
“The level of Allowances now sit well below well below the poverty line,” ACOSS said earlier this year.
“Youth Allowance and Newstart need to be substantially increased to work properly – helping students to cover the essential costs of living, and ensuring people looking for paid work are not in financial crisis. The low rate of Newstart is acting as a major barrier to securing paid work.”
Chris says he’s “disgusted” by the debate surrounding increasing Newstart payments, and he’s sick of the ‘dole bludger’ stereotype too.
“There are so many groups [calling for an increase to Newstart] – even the Business Council says increase it, the Reserve Bank says increase it. It’s not just ACOSS and others, it’s right-wing people that say increase it.
“As soon as somebody comes out and says increase it, you get this stuff on the TV talking about unemployed people being druggies, alcoholics and gamblers.
“Show me somebody that can afford to buy drugs, or enough alcohol to be an alcoholic – or have money to gamble?”
“It’s not the reality.”
Welfare cards feel “condescending”
The Federal Government implemented the cashless welfare card to regional areas in 2016, and extending it further across the nation in 2017 and 2018.
The cards don’t allow welfare recipients to withdraw cash, and only allow them to spend the money in certain places.
The Human Rights Legal Centre has said the welfare cards are inconsistent with human rights, citing they “unjustifiably limit rights to social security, private and family life, equality and nondiscrimination”.
And Chris agrees.
“The fact that the government gives you a card and says you can’t spend money on anything but what they tell you – that’s just so condescending,” Chris said.
“I’ve been a finance manager and a bookkeeper – I know how to handle my finances.”
*Chris’ surname has been omitted to maintain his privacy.
Make your money work with Yahoo Finance’s daily newsletter. Sign up here and stay on top of the latest money, news and tech news.