Two years ago Dave* was a human resources professional working in the public service at an executive level, today he is experiencing homelessness while surviving on Newstart.
When his mother had a fall in May last year Dave had to give up his job to care for her. After 9 months of living with and caring for her, she needed to move into a nursing home and Dave became homeless.
He mostly gets by thanks to staying on friends’ couches, and support from charities like Vinnies.
‘Newstart isn’t enough to cover essentials, let alone afford rent in Canberra,’ said Dave.
‘I’ve had to learn how to access support, and how to supplement the Newstart payments with help from community organisations.
‘Vinnies gave me vouchers for food and clothing, and I’ve started accessing community pantries for food. I’m working out how to get the support that’s out there, and tapping into services. It’s a maze unless you know how to get the support,’ said Dave.
Warwick Fulton, President of the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, said, ‘Newstart unfortunately just isn’t enough to live on. It hasn’t gone up in real terms in 25 years and yet all expenses have gone up enormously in that time, so people just can’t make ends meet.’
A single person on Newstart receives as little as $275.10 a week, or $39.30 a day. This is not enough to meet day-to-day living costs, such as rent, food, transport, healthcare and utilities.
The inadequacy of Newstart is pushing many recipients into poverty and contributing to financial stress, housing insecurity, and diminished health and wellbeing.
‘Research shows that pushing people into poverty can act as a barrier to securing employment,’ said Mr Fulton.
‘Current payment rates don’t cover basic living costs, let alone the additional costs of looking for work. The ongoing stress and struggle to make ends meet can also detract from job search activities and undermine health and wellbeing, further diminishing employment prospects,’ Mr Fulton added.
‘When you’re in a situation that you’re couch surfing, it’s very difficult to pull it all together physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to front up for interviews to gain employment,’ said Dave.
‘Newstart has to go up substantially. A $75 increase a week will allow people the basics, to provide rent, food and heating and a few of the essentials so they can go out and find work.
‘They’re the things that people need to restore their self-esteem, and put them in the sort of place where they feel confident enough to go out and look for work,’ said Mr Fulton.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
13 May 2019