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How would you live on $17 a day?

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Rachel Siewert 23 Apr 2012

Dear friend,

Imagine that you've just lost your job. This week I met David, who lost his job as a chef after 24 years working for one company. David didn't think it could happen to him, but it can happen to anyone.
How would you find work again if you couldn't afford a train ticket, a decent meal or a phone call?
Newstart is Australia's unemployment benefit. It's supposed to be a safety net to catch all of us when we find ourselves out of a job - but Newstart has fallen so low that it's begun to trap people in poverty.
After paying their rent, people on Newstart are forced to live on $17 a day. That's just $17 a day for everything, from power and water bills, to food and transport. With rents rising, many live on even less than that. Newstart is $133 a week lower than the aged and disability pensions - and we all know they're too low.
Living on so little takes its toll. You go into debt to pay a bill, your phone gets cut off, and sometimes you can't afford to eat well - so you eat plain rice or pasta, just to feel full. Imagine looking for work, hungry.
The stress of living on Newstart actually makes it harder to find work, which is why the Greens and the social services sector have backed an increase to Newstart for years - and why the Business Council of Australia's Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott, supports an increase as well.
Just one week ago, this issue was barely on the government's radar. That's why I've just lived on Newstart for a week - on that same $17 a day - to get the word out. From Today Tonight to Radio National, people are now talking about why Newstart needs to be increased.
During the week, I met people on Newstart, like David, and the people who work most closely with them: community centres, church groups, financial counsellors, interview trainers and more.
They all had one message for me: Newstart is too low, and it needs to be increased now.
That decision is in the hands of Government Ministers like Bill Shorten. So far, he's refused point-blank to even consider increasing Newstart; cutting services to fund a Budget surplus is more important. Any surplus in the Budget is a fake surplus if we are condemning Australians to live in poverty. Only the Greens are responsible enough to plan to raise money for our measures without cutting vital services.
Have you lived on Newstart? Do you know someone who has? Please, tell us your story - we'll compile them and deliver them to Minister Shorten to convince him to increase Newstart this year.
Glenda, a wonderful woman I met on Tuesday, wants to start her own small business - but her mobile phone has just been disconnected. Her landline is long gone. How can she get back into work without a connection to the outside world?
You can read many, many more stories just like Glenda's on my Facebook page. My week on Newstart was just a week, but over 500,000 people like her live on it every day. That's over 500,000 people living $130 a week below the poverty line.
This situation can't be allowed to last. Every Australian can help. Will you write to Minister Shorten and tell him why Newstart needs to be increased?
Yours sincerely,
Rachel Siewert
Senator for Western Australia

P.S. Joe Hockey has just revealed that he wants to cut social security across the board - but Newstart is already far too little to live on. Tell Minister Shorten to defy the Coalition and get this system fixed.

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