Yesterday, Michaelia Cash told the ABC that she could live on the $40 a day the unemployed do, because she did the same thing backpacking. Her nonsense highlights an obvious fact: they don’t get it.
It’s hard not to feel the disconnect. The gap between political empathy and our reality has always been present, but yesterday, the tectonic plates pushed us ever further apart as Michaelia Cash took to Insiders to mention that those on the Newstart allowance should be ok with living off the $40 a day because she’s done it, accomplished that feat backpacking.
Cash’s statements echo the claims made by Liberal backbencher Julia Banks, who believed that she could “live on it, knowing the government is supporting me”. Now, backbenchers say a lot of things for the chance to be burned by the spotlight, but it’s worth mentioning that Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, and that is the reason why we’re having this discussion. She’s a large tuna in the Liberal pond.
— Sean Howe (@SeancHowe) May 5, 2018
It’d be unfair to immediately claim that she is out of touch. I vote we hear her out. Let’s unpack the claim.
It is probably worth mentioning that Michaelia Cash is 47. Which means that unless she’s trudged around Europe to find herself between parliamentary sitting days, it’s safe to assume that the last time she completed this feat was in the late 1990s.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that she probably didn’t backpack in Australia, a place world-famous for being entirely difficult to live in and a place that has continued to grow increasingly harder to live in.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that she did backpack around this land in the ’90s and, for argument’s sake, let’s disqualify the things you don’t have to worry about as a backpacker: utility bills, bond, Internet, laundry, rent, rego and transport, and…
Well, I suppose it could work.
You usually spend most of the time backpacking trying to not work, instead choosing to see the sights and coerce whoever into sexual congress. Is that what Michaelia Cash wants us to do? We could probably do that for $40 a day, providing that the sights are free and our quarry doesn’t expect dinner, and that they live close to us.
Honestly, I’m confused what her point is here. $40 then is not $40 now. If that’s what her point is. The cost of basic continued existence has boomed since she put everything she owned in a backpack. According to the below chart, the amount that the average Australian is paying in rent has viciously increased since the historic lows of the 1990s.
Peep this. The average rent for an average Sydney residence is $480 per week. Obviously, you’d share with someone. So, if you paid half that, it’d be $240 a week. Newstart’s $40 per day comes to $280 per week. Considering that the maximum rental assistance a single person can receive on Newstart is $134.80 a fortnight, the room to squeeze everything else in is minuscule.
According to the ABS, the figures of food inflation are pretty much the same since Cash’s theoretical jaunt in 1998. However, there is the question of what quality food one can purchase at low prices, as the problem of obesity in this country is primarily a problem for the poor:
The practicalities of gaining lasting employment and living on less seem to have long evaded the government. If you want to survive, you’ll make it work. You’re not supposed to be on welfare anyway – this is a government which famously turfed a number of those on the disability pension onto Newstart. From an objective standpoint it kind of makes sense, but not for the individuals – those like my mother who is severely limited in what she can actually do due to a health condition; she now has to travel to crazy lengths to apply for jobs she actually cannot work. She’s an insurance risk, and with her medical history, she’s a risk that many will not take. But, apply she must.
And yes, admittedly, you don’t have to live in Sydney. The government’s answer is to leave. Either up stumps to Tamworth to buy a house, or relocate to Darwin to find work.
Reality seems to be a fiction.
The subtext is obvious: Stop complaining and get a job.
The dots are incredibly hard to join, even to meet the conditions of your continued welfare. I know this from experience. I, like the majority on welfare, did not wish to remain on it. Life on welfare is a life in stasis, however, life will sometimes bottom out and place people in these situations. I’ve felt fortunate to have the welfare system in place, it is a safety net, but it’s a way to drag you onto your knees, not your feet.
According to ABS statistics, at the end of July 2017, there were 17 applicants for everyone one position. You have time to find something, but you better make it quick. This alternate is not tenable.
Those receiving welfare need to get off welfare, sure, but I’m sure that a small increase in the allowed allowance is not going to enable what the government fears – a titanic land rush of the capable suddenly bludging on the utopia of the dole.
Welfare, despite what Michaelia Cash thinks, is no holiday.