Creating an underclass for just $40 a day

I admit I don’t do the grocery shopping for my family very often. Like many men, I have a finely developed ability to gloss over the realities of family budgeting.

So as I walked out of the supermarket last week I was rather shocked that I had just paid $60 for the items needed to make a meal of spaghetti bolognese, some tea and coffee, toothpaste, a packet up crumpets and a few rolls of toilet paper.

Was there a mistake? Apparently not. I started to think of Liberal MP Julia Banks’ claim that she could live on the Newstart unemployment allowance of $40 a day. 

How does anyone live on $40 a day? How is that possible? What deprivations and humiliations must people endure while they are getting a “new start”. 

I have narrowly avoided redundancy a couple of times, and none of us know what tomorrow has on offer.

People lose their jobs and their ability to support their families for any number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with them. 

Companies struggling to maintain margins in a global economy outsource to cheaper off-shore labour markets. Industries close up shop as natural resources dry up or market demands change. Manufacturers lay off workers by the thousands as they fail to be competitive in an aggressive international marketplace.

Management can make poor decisions, banks can foreclose, service industries lose their customer base. Federal and state budgets force rationalisation across institutions. Contracts are not renewed. Balance sheets send public servants to the street.

The word “redundant” is a psychologically appalling weight to carry around your neck.

Job security is a myth. Yet still in this age, we tend to view unemployment as a personal, if not moral, failure. And we punish people for this crime by making them live in a state of poverty. 

This is not only unreasonable, this is dangerous. People, particularly young people, under extreme pressure will make bad choices, they will become estranged, they will drift despondently into an underclass that will cause us all problems. 

My grandfather used to say, “sometimes you have to put your pride in your pocket”. But what if your pockets are perennially empty and all pride is lost? We must restore the social contract and preserve the dignity of those who need a new start. Dignity and self-esteem on $40 a day.

I don’t think so.