Spring 2018

Capturing poverty:

Animation shows daily life on Newstart

Illustration of a woman reading her electricity bill. The text says: 11 am; Get bills Gas, Electricity; $27.68; -$9.75 per day.

Translating complex data about poverty and income into easily understood visuals has always been a challenge, for researchers and advocates alike. What does a decent standard of living ‘look’ like? How do we depict poverty without unwashed, sad faces looking up at a lens?

These were the kinds of questions faced by SilverSun Pictures when creating a video for the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia about the reality of living—or trying to live—on the current Newstart Allowance.

‘When we met with Corinne and Samara at Vinnies, we were shocked to discover how inadequate Newstart has become,’ says Tamzin Nugent, Producer at SilverSun. ‘It made us determined to find the most visually arresting way to show how impossible it was to live on the current allowance.’

Deciding that interactive animation would be an ideal medium for the project, Tamzin brought in writer/researcher Julia Martin and animator Jacinta Joe to create a video that would be factually correct as well as emotionally engaging.

‘As part of our research process, we looked closely at the latest household budget standards set by the Social Policy Research Centre,’ says Julia. ‘We needed to compare Newstart with the minimum amount a single person or family requires to live basically but decently. We also checked the most recent Newstart Allowance entitlements, as well as poverty line and minimum wage figures.’

Faced with a large amount of data and research, the SilverSun team decided to develop a story about a young, single job-seeker, ‘Jess’, trying to live one day on $39.30, the maximum daily Newstart Allowance for someone in her situation. Titled ‘Australia on $39.30 a day!’, the animation features a cash-register style meter running down as Jess looks for work. While the day begins well, by mid-afternoon, Jess is struggling to survive.

Jacinta Joe’s beautiful animation of Jess and her world brings home the message that even when a Newstart recipient does everything ‘right’—living frugally, actively looking for work, and watching every cent—the allowance falls far below the minimum required. By day’s end, despite being on a maximum benefit with rent and energy assistance, Jess is on a knife-edge between poverty and homelessness, a situation alarmingly, and increasingly, seen by the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Recognising that its message relies on accurate, up-to-date data, ‘Australia on $39.30 a day!’ features interactive flags that direct viewers to the source of every figure and data point used in the story. Concluding with a simple graphic showing the contrast between the current Henderson poverty line, minimum wage and Newstart Allowance, the video poses the question, ‘Could you make a new start on Newstart?’  For Jess, we already know the answer.

‘Working on this project for the St Vincent de Paul Society meant so much to the team at SilverSun,’ says Tamzin. ‘The insights of the Vinnies team prompted us to apply some new techniques to storytelling and to think carefully about how we presented the messages. We all reflected on what it would be like to be in Jess’s situation, just struggling to buy a packet of minute noodles. In watching and interacting with the video, we hope viewers will go on the same journey.’

With the adequacy of Newstart Allowance shaping up to be an important debate in the next federal election, ‘Australia on $39.30 a day!’ is part of St Vincent de Paul’s #RaisetheRate campaign to increase the Newstart Allowance by $75 a week for single adults. Although this increase will still not bring payments near the poverty line, it will be a start in restoring dignity to the lives of the nearly 850,000 Australians that Jess represents.

Visit https://raisetherate.vinnies.org.au/ for more information on the #RaisetheRate campaign

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