Spring 2018

Newstart: Stories from the conferences

The clients who come to Vinnies in need of food are commonly on Newstart, Disability and Family Payments. These incomes are small and become inadequate at times when clients have any added financial demands such as rising utility costs, vehicle registrations or medical expenses. To get a sense of the reality of daily life on Newstart, we turned to some Vinnies volunteers to share some stories of clients on Newstart.

Brick wall with the words 'until debt tear us apart'.
Photo: AlicePasqual/Unsplash.

 

Melanie is on Newstart and lives with her husband Tony in regional Australia. Tony has been unable to secure full-time or ongoing work and has been cycling in and out of short-term and casual jobs for the past two years. He has also been struggling with a chronic illness for some time and recently had to travel to a bigger centre for hospitalisation. This involved the added expenses of travel, accommodation and food while they were away from home. Tony and Melanie also had to register their car. St Vincent de Paul Society was able to help with Melanie and Tony’s travel and accommodation costs, but the couple have had to also ask for food assistance, as they had nothing left from their payments after these additional expenses. Forbes, NSW

Our conference (St Mary’s Star of the Sea Milton/Ulladulla) is located in the southern Shoalhaven region and caters to many Newstart clients—people who would otherwise be in crisis without our support. Many are in such financial hardship they are close to homelessness. They often have outstanding debts and juggle their income from one fortnightly payment to the next, trying to pay the most urgent debt at the expense of others. Within the last fortnight, 10 out of 13 clients seeking assistance were on the Newstart Allowance, with most of them in arrears with both their energy accounts and their rent. Ulladulla, NSW

James has been on Newstart for over five years and has needed food assistance on a regular basis. He lives in an old rental property and pays $290 per week in rent, which is about 80 per cent of his income. He uses candles instead of electrical lighting to reduce electricity costs, but still has a large energy bill due to electrical faults and outages; he has reported these issues to his landlord but no repairs have been made. James has found it difficult to meet his energy costs over the past few years and has had dealings with the Energy and Water Ombudsman and his energy retailer. He is severely depressed and is worried his part-time custody of his child is at risk due to his ongoing financial hardship. Ulladulla, NSW

Bel has been on Newstart for 12 months, following the termination of her cleaning business due to financial overheads. She has been struggling to pay off outstanding debts and has accrued additional arrears with both electricity and rental commitments. She is now at risk of homelessness and has been issued with an eviction notice. We are encountering more clients asking for rent assistance to avoid homelessness. One client is paying $320 per week for their rental property (over 80 per cent of their income). Allowing for the daily essentials, it is hard to imagine the client will ever regain financial independence—even with ongoing food assistance. Ulladulla, NSW

Sue is single, 63 years old and is on Newstart Allowance. She needed a loan for car registration. When assisting her with her budget, I found that she has no outstanding loans, she doesn’t buy alcohol or cigarettes, and doesn’t buy anything other than food and petrol. She has a total weekly income of $366 including rent assistance and $300 of that goes towards rent. Her weekly budget deficit is $53. Occasionally she gets a few weeks’ temporary work which stops her going under, but it’s very precarious. Campbelltown, NSW

Chris has been on Newstart for over two years, and seeks regular support for medication and food assistance. Rent accounts for 76 per cent of his income, and he is in arrears with his rent, energy and telephone accounts. He lives outside of town in an old rental property without an off-peak hot water system. Travel expenses for out-of-town medical appointments have placed an additional burden upon his budget. Ulladulla, NSW

Sam is a single 24-year-old on Newstart, living in a privately rented share house with three others. He is currently unemployed and looking for work, and is also studying to obtain an Aged Care Certificate at TAFE to provide future employment opportunities. His share of the rent is $140 per week. Other household expenses such as electricity and water are also shared. He has other personal expenses such as phone and internet. He has made requests to Vinnies for help with food. ‘Bills keep coming in and it is difficult to make ends meet’, he said. His situation recently deteriorated when a housemate left suddenly, leaving his bills unpaid. Sam has no savings or family able to help him, and any unplanned costs put him in dire circumstances. Wollongong, NSW

Megan is a 22-year-old who moved to Wollongong from interstate to do a music degree. She lives in an old share house with three other students. She has no family or friends here to support her. She receives $220 per week in Youth Allowance, $150 of which goes towards rent and $15 towards shared household expenses. This leaves Megan with $55 per week for food, transport and other expenses. She was not managing, so St Vincent de Paul provided food and a list of places she could go to get free meals. Wollongong, NSW

Carol is single and 64 years old and is on Newstart Allowance. She had previously been homeless due to illness. After being placed on an emergency housing priority list, she found a private rental, with the help of an agency, that the Department of Housing will subsidise. She is now just able to survive. She had a zero-interest loan granted for a washing machine, TV and microwave, and is currently sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She is physically disabled to the point that I had to hold her handbag while she grasped the railing to get up the stairs, but Centrelink has determined that she is only eligible for Newstart, not the Disability Support Pension. Campbelltown, NSW

Tina is a single 43-year-old on Newstart Allowance. She was unable to pay simple expenses beyond the essentials such as rent and car registration. She lives in subsidised community housing and pays $114 in weekly rent. She doesn’t buy anything fancy yet she still has a budget deficit. Campbelltown, NSW

Liz is a single 55-year-old on Newstart Allowance. She was a registered nurse, but illness caused her to give up her nurse’s registration. She was getting a small amount of casual work as a support worker in NDIS, but needed to register her car so she could get  additional work. Her mortgage repayments are $264 per week, and the bank has agreed to suspend her repayments for three months. She has no non-essential expenditure and does not receive any concessions because Newstart is not considered a pension. She has been running a weekly deficit of $140, and is now in serious danger of homelessness. If she had to sell her place, her rent would be higher than her current mortgage payments. Now Liz is trying to cash in her superannuation to keep her going, but her superannuation payout will not cover her remaining mortgage liability. Campbelltown, NSW

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