November 25, 2020

We want to live in an Australia where we don’t have to choose between food and healthcare | Bane Williams and Karen Perkins

Bane Williams: All I’m asking for is a little humanity

When the jobseeker coronavirus supplement was halved recently, I had to adapt. Instead of being able to afford both fresh food and medical care, I’ve had to prioritise which of those I’d need most each fortnight. But I’m still able to afford food in my belly and care for my body, even if it’s not the best quality. With the next $100 a fortnight cut at the end of December, that all changes.

Losing another $50 a week from the supplement will mean I go back to what it was like on Newstart. Do I eat or do I care for my health? I can afford one, not both, if I want to survive. The quality of the food I eat will drop again. Back in rotation will be the 40c mi goreng noodles and bread. Dreams of getting my Ps and a car will go back on hold, as I will never be able to afford a VORT (Vehicle on Road) test.

The social services minister, Anne Ruston, states this will “encourage people to re-engage with the workforce”, but the numbers just don’t add up. The fact is there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. I’ve applied for work that Seek has told me over 800 others applied for. I’ve seen jobs in the eastern seaboard that have over 2,000 applicants. We are clearly looking for work but the jobs just aren’t there yet. To further penalise me for simply existing is heartless indifference at best, malicious neglect at its worst.

All I’m asking for is a little humanity, an opportunity to exist in a world where I don’t need to decide between eating and health. Where I don’t need to have a daily struggle in order to survive. Where I don’t need to feel like a lesser person in society because I’m walking around in threadbare clothes and haven’t been able to afford a haircut in what feels like forever. To have dignity. But, clearly, that is too much to ask.

Bane Williams, 36, Adelaide, SA


‘I’ve applied for work that Seek has told me over 800 others applied for. I’ve seen jobs in the eastern seaboard that have over 2,000 applicants.’ Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Karen Perkins: There’s no room for dignity

I just wanted to cry when I heard the minister for social services on the radio this week saying that they need to cut the unemployment payment again so we have the incentive to look for work.

I had a great job 10 years ago as the personal assistant to the managing director of a small engineering company. I’ve got great skills – but for years now I’ve had real difficulties finding permanent work.

The job market is highly competitive, especially when you’re in your 50s. I just get short-term contracts, then am unemployed again for months until I get another short-term contract.

Since March I’ve written and sent between 10 and 30 job applications a month. Sometimes I get an interview, but so far no luck landing a job. I’m even offering to start out as a volunteer so they can try me out.

I’m very worried about going back into the stress of surviving on $51 a day – it will be just enough to cover my rent, food and possibly public transport.

I will go back to struggling to cover electricity bills, medication, cleaning products and personal grooming like shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant – forget about makeup or haircuts.

I need prescription medication for migraines – they become more frequent when I feel on-edge or stressed, but after December I know I’ll go back to having to choose between buying food and medicine.

Big and unexpected purchases will really stress me out. My washing machine hose is starting to leak now. I know that even if I got a no-interest loan to repair or replace it, it will be impossible to pay off on the hand-to-mouth jobseeker rate.

Last year I was living in trackie pants and T-shirts. When the supplement came through in March, I bought some clothes on sale – nice tops and pants so I can look presentable going to a job interview. I was able to meet friends and have a coffee.

After Christmas it will be like living in lockdown permanently. You have to stay home because you don’t have the money to socialise – you can’t go to local cafes or restaurants. The thought of going back into that kind of isolation is heart-wrenching.

There’s no room for dignity. Anyone can do it for a month or two, but I’ve been struggling like this for years.

I think it’s callous and cruel. There’s no justification for forcing people to live on just $51 a day. It doesn’t help us get a job, it just makes it even harder to compete.

Karen Perkins, 50s, Sydney