'It's Cruel': Woman Says Reducing JobSeeker Payments Means She'll Go Back To Eating One Meal A Day
Before the JobSeeker Payment was boosted by $550 a fortnight, Melissa Fisher was surviving on just one meal a day and often going without her medication so she could afford to pay the bills.
Under the old payment rate of $550 a fortnight, Fisher had as little as $40 left a week after paying rent, electricity and water bills.
She says there were times where she had to choose between catching the bus home or buying a loaf of bread.
"Basically, I wouldn't eat every day. There were days where I'd just eat dinner, and no breakfast and lunch at all. Some days, I wouldn't eat at all," she told 10 daily.
Now, she says, for the first time in years, she can afford to buy fresh meat and vegetables.
"I got the first payment last Tuesday and it was the first payday I've had that hasn't caused me to burst into tears or worry about what medications I have to miss or food I won't be able to buy," Fisher said.
"It's like a weight has been lifted. I can actually eat a healthy diet and I'm able to get my medications and not stop and start them all the time," she added.
I was also able to buy some new clothes, something I haven't done in four years.
The 38-year-old lives with various mental and physical health conditions including Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, severe depression and a back condition called spinal stenosis.
She also has a skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa that causes her to get painful cysts and boils.
Before the welfare payment was increased, Fisher says she was unable to afford medical gauze or cream to treat the cysts and had been forced to use tissues.
She also claims under the old rate she could not afford to see a specialist in order to get the reports needed to apply for a Disability Support Pension (DSP).
"I have illnesses and disabilities that don't allow me to leave the house," Fisher said.
"Thankfully, now because of the increase, I'll be able to get all the reports I need and then my doctor and psychiatrist think I have a good chance of receiving the DSP."
Fisher's dad has recently been diagnosed with stage-four terminal lung cancer and lives a three-hour bus ride away.
She says reversing the payments is "cruel" and that it's only because of the boosted allowance that she's been able to visit her dying father.
"There have been times I couldn't see him because I couldn't afford the bus fare. Now I'm able to sit with him and spend time with family before he passes away."
Over the weekend, federal Labor criticised the federal government's plan to revert the JobSeeker payment back to its old rate on September 27.
The JobSeeker payment -- a doubling of the old Newstart payment to $1,100 per fortnight -- and JobKeeper payment - a wage subsidy of $1,500 every two weeks -- have been legislated to run for six months.
But the government has suggested JobKeeper payments could be wound back after a review of the scheme in June.
"I don't see how the prime minister's concept of a 'snapback' is going to work," Labor's Industrial Relations Spokesperson Tony Burke told ABC on Sunday.
"Unless you want people to suddenly be able to not pay their bills, unless you want people to suddenly vacate the premises where they live and handing back the keys to homes that they've mortgaged, then the Government is going to have to look at extending this," he said.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the payments were "a temporary lifeline put in place to help Australians through the worst of the crisis."
“It comes at a very significant cost, not just to current but to future generations as well. And it will be there to get us, to meet that objective, but it’s not envisaged -- never was -- to be a longer-term arrangement," Morrison said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia's spending needs to be targeted, as the country is expected to battle a debt of $143 billion after the pandemic.
His office did not respond to 10 daily's request for comment and instead, forwarded us a transcript of an interview with Sky News.
"We've said that the programs and the announcements that we've made including that $550 supplement are temporary, and that's consistent with the announcements that we made at the time but also with the need to ensure that our programs, our additional spending programs don't go for a day longer than they have to," Frydenberg told Sky News last week.
"I think that's really important when you consider there is no money tree at the back of the parliamentary garden. There is nowhere we can go and just you know, prune off a few extra dollar bills and throw them around."
The Australian Unemployment Workers' Union is campaigning for the new rate to stay, and says the boosted JobSeeker payment has put it just above the poverty line.
The union argues the Newstart rate hasn't increased since 1994 -- some 25 years -- while income and wealth levels have skyrocketed and corporate tax rates have been slashed.
"If the rate reverts, it'll be pretty drastic," Kristin O'Connor from AUWU told 10 daily.
"We had someone tell us they've just bought PJs for the first time ever. One person said they have been able to drive their car for the first time in two years."
"People will go back to recurring debts... and making judgments about whether to go to a job interview or eat a second meal."
According to the government, there are currently 1.3 million people on JobSeeker, with that number projected to reach 1.7 million by September.
A Senate inquiry into Newstart found the "income support system is not meeting its objectives of ensuring a minimum standard of living for working-age job seekers, as too many live in poverty".
The inquiry, which had its last hearing in February, recommended Newstart be increased, and raised concerns that the current settings are acting as a barrier to people accessing employment and housing.
Of the OECD countries, after two months of unemployment, Newstart is the lowest unemployment welfare payment, according to the inquiry's findings.
O'Connor says politicians "don't understand what it's like to live on JobSeeker".
"It's not just that you can't afford to eat every day, but if it goes on every day, you develop anxiety," she said.
"If Centrelink doesn't give the correct payment, most people are on zero dollars. Often it takes more than a day to get through to them and after you've waited two hours, it kicks you off automatically."
Jessie Bradshaw* says he's been off and on the Newstart Payment for six years, and rejects the argument often levelled at people looking for work that 'it's as easy as just getting a job'.
"I'll send [Frdyenberg] my resume and say there you go, find me a job because I've done everything I can to find a damn job," he told 10 daily.
The 54-year-old casual teacher has an Honours degree to his name and had been working a variety of different jobs before becoming unemployed in April last year.
He says since losing his last job, he's applied for more than 200 positions.
Bradshaw says there have been times he's had to take money from his super because of financial hardship and that at one point in time he'd racked up $20,000 worth of credit card debt.
He claims under the old rate he had virtually no money left over and spent more than 60 percent of his payment on his "modest" one-bedroom unit in Melbourne.
"I had to move in with my mum, who is a pensioner, and her partner a few years ago... they're at the point of their lives where they shouldn't have to look after an adult child," Bradshaw said.
"The reversal of the increase means I will only be one unexpected bill away from being homeless," he said.
"It's the assumption that everyone on a Centrelink payment is a dole bludger or they're hopeless and can't manage their affairs.
"I'm an intelligent, well-educated person and for someone to say to me, I'm not capable of managing my life, I just find it damn well insulting."
*Name has been changed to protect the person's identity
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