18 Jul Benefits
It’s Election time, which means it’s Beneficiary-Bashing Season. Here’s a little thing I wrote last time round, which seems worth saying again right now. Particularly the bit about how people imagine living on a benefit might be just like your life is now without the bother of going to work. It was originally published in the Press on 9 April 2014.
I have nothing against people who live on money provided by taxpayers doing a bit of overseas travel. By which I mean I’m not totally against this visit from William, Kate and George.
That doesn’t mean I’ll be out waving a flag any time soon, and I can think of a bunch of other things I’d rather we spent the estimated $1million on. But it’s nice to see new mothers getting out of the house, and for families to share experiences.
I’m even more enthusiastic about other beneficiaries travelling. Like my friend, a single parent who took her son to Melbourne during school holidays to visit his 87 year old grandfather. Not something she could afford herself – the wider family paid the airfare – and she continued to job-seek via the internet while she was away.
It still took her six months to recover financially from the other costs. And despite having notified WINZ prior to the trip, her benefit was stopped and there was a lag –and frantic phone calls – before it was restarted.
But making sure her son knows his family and sees something of the world is, she believes, part of being a good parent.
That’s probably not the scenario we are supposed to imagine. Fair enough. You come home from work, your feet hurt, the guy in the next cubicle has been a dick and your boss is a fool, and there’s Paula Bennett on the news saying everyone on the dole is off to the Gold Coast.
We can be quick to get all hot and fizzy, imagining the delights of life on the dole. “Getting paid to do nothing.” Your life as it is now but without the bother of going to work. An endless annual leave.
Because we confuse “unemployment” with our “I don’t have to go to work” fantasy. You picture yourself in your home as it is now, with all your stuff, hanging out with your friends. A bit of a lie in and some time to yourself. Maybe you’d have to tighten your belt but, crikey, you’d finally have time to put in that garden and grow your own groceries, and get really get serious about doing your own renovations.
What we don’t factor in is the hopelessness of real poverty. The humiliation of not having a job title. Knowing that every advertisement on TV is not aimed at you. Getting cross with the kids because you live in daily terror that what you do have will get broken, or lost, or worn out, or used up and you can’t see a time when they – the plates or the raincoat or the peanut butter – can be replaced.
Being scared of winter because you worry about how much keeping warm will take out of what you have for food. And not even being able to imagine a time when things will be better.
At which point the idea of the cousins chipping in for a cheap airfare sounds like the kind of gift you’re no longer too proud to turn down. Please, enjoy your flight.