New start? Hardly.

My name is Annette and I’m on Newstart.

Newstart is a government allowance, a welfare payment, provided to adults seeking full time employment.

In exchange for Newstart, I am required to search for a certain number of jobs per month, and to report in person to my parole officer job services provider once a fortnight, to provide them with details of my job search efforts.

In the past 26 weeks, my job services provider has provided me with a grand total of three roles to apply for.

Just three, in 26 weeks. (Leaves me thinking they’re working harder for Centrelink than they are for job seekers. There’s a massive industry of people who have jobs based solely on other people not having jobs…. hmmm, curious.)

I have applied for job after job after job this year, fortnight after fortnight. I have worked for short periods, but have been mostly on the hunt. I apply for administrative jobs, from office coordinator to receptionist roles, I apply for roles I know I’m overqualified for, some roles that really interest me, roles that don’t spark anything, and jobs I think I’d be bored stupid in. I’ve applied across industries from public accountants to plumbers, from law firms to mysterious ‘private advertisers’. I apply directly and through agencies. I don’t even discriminate against ads with horrendous grammar and spelling errors, they need me the most! I write cover letters, tweaking them to suit each role, and I’ve checked and updated my CV. On paper, I’m doing everything right.

I send my applications out…     crickets.

No responses at all, for months on end.

Just this week, I got a call from a prospective employer. He confused me with another applicant, then asked me how much I expected to get paid. That was his only question.

On Newstart, I get $333.40 per week (as a fortnightly payment of $666.80).

According to The University of Melbourne Poverty Lines: Australia December Quarter 2015 report (Table 4) the national poverty line for a single adult is $520.51 (weekly). That’s $187.11 more than someone like me (single, no dependents) receives weekly on Newstart.

To keep things simple, I’ll break things down the way I actually budget each month, which is based on two fortnightly payments, totalling $1,333.60.

From that, let’s deduct just some of my monthly expenses:

  • $867.00 rent
  • $35.00 mobile phone (not on contract, just reduced)
  • $60.00 internet (fixed contract)
  • $90.00 average winter utility bill (this will come way, way down across summer, but I’ll have aircon costs)
  • $26.00 foxtel (not on contract, I negotiated this rate #likeaboss. I could cancel it, but I haven’t. Judge away!)
  • $150.00 groceries (this definitely fluctuates, I have a well stocked pantry & freezer, and generous friends)
  • That’s $1,228.00, which leaves me with $105.60.

I haven’t included petrol, occasional doctor’s visits (last month, I needed to go twice in the space of a week), my minimum credit card payment, a new sketchbook or pad of watercolour paper, insurance premiums, buying a magazine on a whim, or blog hosting costs, but $105.60 (remember, that’s per month) only stretches so far.

My purpose in sharing these figures isn’t to illicit sympathy, or to get into a debate about the merits or pitfalls of the welfare system, it’s simply to share the realities of living on Newstart with you. It’s no picnic.

I maintain a pretty positive outlook, that’s my nature, but there are financial pressures at play, choices to be made, corners to be cut. If I can offset those worries by listening to a podcast in bed on a weekday morning, then that’s where you’ll find me.

When I was last out of work, I remember crying at the kitchen sink on more than one occasion — what is it about doing the dishes that brings on the tears — worrying about paying the rent on time, or feeling utterly gutted that I ran out of mayo. True story, an empty mayonnaise brought me completely undone, you can read about it here.

I think a lot of people simply don’t know what being on Newstart means, so when they hear the ‘lazy, no hopers, living off YOUR taxes, blah, blah, blah’ tripe that shows like A Current Affair trot out once a quarter, (side note: stop watching that shit, seriously!), they don’t have an accurate frame of reference from which to make their judgments. That’s never stopped anyone though!

Anyone who claims living on Newstart is easy, or that it’s a long term option that people choose, is utterly misinformed. Try it for a month or two, I dare you: if you’re single, try and live off $1,333.60. It’s not easy.
I am actually super proud of the way I manage it, even if my RACV roadside assistance is now overdue.

I am so grateful for the Newstart allowance, without it I don’t know what my life would look like right now.

I’d most likely be homeless, and desperate in ways that I don’t want to imagine. *shudders*

Of course, I’d rather be earning my own money, as I’ve done for most of the past 30+ years.

I know that my next job is out there, it’s just a matter of time, effort and opportunity meeting.

That’s the new start I really need.

Frugally,

Annette

37 thoughts on “New start? Hardly.

  1. Annette, I love it when you write about living on the amount that the government deems appropriate for people who are currently unemployed. Not because I enjoy hearing about your hardship. I don’t. And not because I need a reminder that A Current Affair does not speak the truth. I haven’t watched that show since living at home with my parents, but over 20 years on they are still doing the same fear mongering, ill informed, tabloid stories. But because you write about it in such a real way. Not pushing one barrow or another, just a slice of life glimpse and that is always fascinating. Thank-you for sharing your story so openly and honestly. And also? I wouldn’t judge you about the Foxtel cost regardless, but if you think about how expensive alternative entertainment is (like live theatre etc) it’s a bargain. You are still allowed to entertain yourself even while you’re unemployed, aren’t you? Congratulations on managing so well in difficult circumstances and for maintaining such a positive outlook, fostering your creativity and connecting with your online community all the while. You are doing great. x

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  2. I am amazed that you manage to stretch it that far. Thanks for sharing this Annette. It’s easy to loose sight of the people behind the statistics and I liked hearing your side of this story.

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    • The media portrayal is incredibly one-note and derogatory, but unemployed people aren’t a homogenous bunch!
      My next challenge will be juggling my limited resources to cover petrol to drive 180 kms a week to my mandatory, pointless, potentially soul destroying job seeker “activity”. I am required to go and sit in a warehouse at a community op shop, at an ancient computer, and do absolutely nothing of substance, for 15 hours a week. WTF!

      Serenity now!

      Thanks for reading Bron, and for the vote of confidence. I need them!

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  3. It took me 3 months to find my last job before having a baby. Three months of applying for 20 jobs per week and hearing nothing back. It was unbelievably demoralising. In the end I got my job through contacts and on a recommendation,l. I hope that something great turns up for you soon x

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    • Three months is super quick! Didn’t feel like it I bet, but it is. It’s been a real struggle for me for a few years now. I worked casually last year (20-24 hours a week) and before that I was out of work for about a year.
      But my job is not who I am, never has been, it just pays for this life business.

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  4. Gosh Annette. You are an honest to God trouper. People living privileged lives have no idea what others (many others) go through. I hope you get a job soon. Actually I hope I get a job soon. I think a lot of employers already have someone in mind when they advertise but by law they have to advertise which wastes a lot of people’s time. I’ve fallen for that one. Take heart that it’s them not you x

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  5. It’s a tough gig, no doubt. And the worry would be more than I could bear. I think not only do you do very well in managing such limited resources, you do so well to remain so chipper. I’m sure I would have sunken into a quagmire of despair and self-pity. I hope the right role presents itself soon. It seems so crazy that someone with your skills and talents hasn’t been snapped up! I think it’s just a matter of time. xx

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    • Collette, I think people find it really hard to fathom how hard it can be to find a job at the moment. I can’t even get my foot in the door. I don’t worry much actually, but the finances are a problem. I don’t have basic insurances because I simply can’t afford them, so that makes life a bit precarious.

      Upside: not having to deal with peak hour, or the office dickhead!!

      Thanks for your good wishes 😘

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  6. It really astounds me how much they expect people to get by on. Nope it’s not a choice anyone would make. I hope you find something soon Annette. What is with the huge journey to sit in a warehouse!!!!! Insane!!!
    Sending good vibes 😎

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    • It’s bullshit, that’s what it is. I’m contemplating appealing to my job provider for an exemption. If I have to sit somewhere and do nothing for 15 hours a week, why can’t I do it at their office, which is less than 5 minutes from home?

      Send me all the positive vibes!

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  7. I hope your new start arrives soon and in the mean time I think you are doing a fabulous job of managing your finances, staying positive , keeping it real and keeping on with creative pursuits.

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  8. i’m hearing you Annette!
    I know several well educated people in the same boat! … it’s a serious problem!
    i’ve noticed many new employment services springing up! … but where are the jobs?
    maybe there is a book to be written by yourself hun! … then you can be the spokes person for people who have no voice at all!
    you can go on “the project” though! … only slightly better than those other programmes! … just say’n!
    you can correct my grammar any day hun! much love m:)X

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    • That’s the thing, unemployment ISN”T about being unskilled. It’s such a common misconception. There seem to be plenty of jobs going in my field, but I can’t get a look in. Hopefully that will change soon. One thing if for sure, the system does NOT want to teach anyone to use their voice, it’s pretty much a leper colony approach, and it’s sad and gross. I’m feeling that today after sitting for 5 hours at a mandatory ‘activity’ that just made me feel like shit, rather than helping me in any way. Yay!
      I’ll shake it off by tonight, I’m sure.

      You are awesome Merilyn, always so encouraging xxx

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  9. I cry over a sudsy sink sometimes too! Centrelink certainly do make you jump through hoops for peanuts and those job agencies are absolutely hopeless.
    Hope the perfect job comes your way really soon.

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  10. Thanks Annette for your insight. It is unbelievable that this happens – I think you should add your budgeting expertise as a skill on your CV. I found it extremely frustrating when I was looking for a new job, with cover letters and resumes and online applications so it must be painstaking when you add Government bureaucracy into the equation. Good on you for maintaining a positive attitude, I’m sure that the right job is just around the corner. The employer who snaps you up will count their blessings.

    As for Kylie with the calculation correction: if that is what was your takeaway from this blog post, then you have missed the point big time.

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  11. This post is a reality check for me & I dare say others. It is “good” that the govt pays you and others while job seeking Etc but it stinks that their “service” providers are not doing their job getting you jobs??!! I am appalled that you are required to spend money “getting to the place where you have to comply with requirements” . My few thoughts are these:- your writing needs to be put to good use letting your local member (federal) know what the situation is – if you can trust them not to have it backfire .
    I look at life as an employee these days this way.. “None of us ever knows how secure this job is as so many companies change management, go bust , merge with others”…
    I hope you can stay safe & well while you continue your never-ending (until success of course!) search. Thank goodness for the Internet & art & blue skies!

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  12. It’s tough being out of work. Your confidence gets knocked a bit, especially when people comment in nasty ways in order to be helpful. Passive aggressive shit gets my goat big time. Some people need to check their ego.
    And you need to give yourself a big fucking pat on the back. Xxxx

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    • I agree! So As the back pat, I just ate some crumpets Edie, yum! Crumpets make everything better.

      I think it’s just having to participate in the utter pretence of this mandatory activity that has felt like a punch in the guts this week. The system seems deliberately set up to break people down, rather than assist them.

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      • Yep it’s been a tough week for you Annette. Things will change soon, it’s the only thing you can count on. And there will always be crumpets xxxx

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  13. I love this post. Thank you for sharing. I was on Newstart for a while recently and can totally relate to what you’ve written. All the best with your job searching! Like you, so glad there is a safety net, but find the way the system is set up very emotive.

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  14. Annette, I’m so glad you’ve written about this. I have been there myself, shopping at food banks in order to save a few meager dollars for fuel to get to interviews. I wish the government understood that the reason for unemployment goes much further than a lack of skills.
    And those government job agencies are a fucking scam. Don’t get me started on how awful they are. I feel for you xox

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  15. Annette!! Sending you *love* big time. I know how you feel! I relocated from Sydney to a (very large) regional area three years ago, driven out by rents spiraling upwards and the need to make a tree-change for the last third of my life. The lifestyle is wonderful – but oh the job market. I have had three major careers, tertiary qualifications in each and loads of (I think) impressive experience. Does it count for anything? Nup. I am still to find a permanent job and am surviving on agency work. I think you said that you have approached agencies, do keep trying as this is where there is often a lot of short term and impermanent work, but it’s better than Newstart. In desperation I went in to Centrelink and demanded to see an experienced staffer and mercifully found a woman about my age i.e. in her 50s. I said “These are my qualifications and this is my experience. I am desperately wanting work. I am happy to do TAFE retraining. What am I eligible for in terms of assistance?” I was floored when she said “Nothing.” A TAFE course I was keen on was full-price i.e. $9,000 (for a Certificate IV level) as I didn’t fall into any category of disadvantage. I left crying and humiliated. The woman I saw was fabulous, really sympathetic by the way and I appreciated her empathy. But I do feel that the last three years have battered my self-esteem and eroded my self-confidence in a way I didn’t think possible. Hang in there! And do contact every agency you can, this was the only way I was able to survive, jumping from short term contract to short term contract. Currently I have three days agency work p.w., the contract keeps extending, but for 3 months at a time only. It’s a hard way to work and certainly not how I expected to be spending the last decade of my working life. BTW you write beautifully and I love your blog. 🙂

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    • Thank you for liking my writing! They can’t take that from me. I love having this creative outlet and little community of cheerleaders. You all buoy me up.

      As for the Centrestink debacle, people keep suggesting utterly reasonable things to me, and then they’re shocked when I tell them there’s no provision for training or really anything useful to job seekers. No choice in volunteering, no actual skills to be gained from their leper colonisation. Nothing. Those in power seem very stuck on the notion that only “unskilled” (aka unimportant, to them) people are unemployed.

      You and I know differently.

      I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but I’m glad you’ve got some work. Agencies suck, I’ve never had any success via an agency. I think the career temps have the market cornered.

      Hopefully I’ll be able to at least express my angst about some of these issues with my hilariously poorly named job services provider tomorrow.

      Good luck to you Kimberly.

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  16. Well, I think you can add “budgeting like a boss” to your CV because you sure know how to stretch a dollar – but I wish you didn’t have to. I hate the thought of Centrelink making you jump through their pointless hoops when instead they could, and should be finding you open doors. I hope you find something that pays the bills and makes your heart sing… And soon. I wish I lived nearer because think of the fun we would have on Sunday Baking Sunday. Keep on being awesome x

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    • I can totally see us having a great time baking together! I’m looking forward to starting a new ‘required activity’ tomorrow, working a couple of days a week at a Salvos Store, and I’ll just keep plugging away at applying for work. I do budget like a boss don’t I? Geez it is hard, but I don’t really have a choice at the moment. Onwards!

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