You Can Survive on Newstart But You Can’t Live On It (Redux)

Long after Ken Parish published his post You Can Survive on Newstart But You Can’t Live On It on January 6th it’s still attracting a steady daily trickle of readers. It also attracts the occasional comment describing survival on Newstart, most recently this one from Brenton:

Brenton on June 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm said:

Sorry to drag up an old thread, but I wish you had used average cost of housing in Sydney rather than Darwin public housing

NSW rents on tab 2 of this NSW government housing report.

Me single male IT pro 50 years old – Hundreds of job applications and not even a call back.

Dole + Rent relief $310 – rent $240 one bedroom behind a shop in Lakemba – that’s Sydney’s low cost immigrant landing suburb for the un-enlightened – electricity $30pw internet $20pw that makes $290 leaving me with $20pw. I rely on salvos and vinnies handouts for food. My cloths are rags that I cant afford to replace – and I still have to jump through the stupid hoops of the Job network.

I cant afford to hire a truck to move – cant afford to renew my license – so even if I had a car couldn’t use it to find somewhere cheaper. In any case there isn’t anywhere for around $150 pw because “student accommodation” mainly for foreign students has base-lined the rents anywhere within 50 miles of a university at $150 a week for a room.

And according to the centerlink moving away from work is a problem – I do IT so need to be near Sydney or Melbourne if I ever want to get work again.

So I am stuck – cant move – can’t get help – cant afford to live oh yes – have just filled in the bankruptcy paperwork.

Am learning to hate this government – both sides of it with a passion.


Today, via Matt Cowgill’s Twitter feed, I learnt of this paper on Australia’s income support system, ‘The Henderson Question? The Melbourne Institute and 50 Years of Welfare Policy by Professor Bob Gregory: Gregory writes:

I … focus on aspects of ‘make work pay’, a central pillar of 1 policy designed to move a significant fraction of 2 into employment. The other two pillars that matter, widening the scope of ‘make work pay’ by moving an increasing proportion of 1 recipients from pensions to substantially lower ‘make work pay’ allowance payments and extending ‘job activation’, will receive less attention.

The essence of ‘make work pay’ is to improve employment incentives by increasing income when employed relative to income when not employed and, in this way, induce more 1 recipients to spend more time in employment. Australian ‘make work pay’ policy does not increase income when employed. Employment incentives are improved by reducing income, relative to community standards, when not employed. Australian policy deliberately increases poverty, relative to community living standards, while on 1. (emphasis added)

There, in a mere two paragraphs, Gregory nails the underlying philosophy of Newstart.

So, in deference to anyone else who might have read Ken’s earlier post on  life on Newstart but feel reluctant to bump a very old thread to discuss their experience, here’s a new comments thread where you can share your personal experiences of the hardships of life on Newstart.

  1. income support[][][][]
  2. income support recipients[]

About Paul Bamford (aka Gummo T)

Gummo Trotsky is the on-line persona of Paul Bamford. Paul recently placed his intellect at risk of finally becoming productive by enrolling in a Lemonade, Lime & Bitters degree via distance education. He also plays the piano but Keith Jarrett he ain't.
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10 years ago

Ok, this is going to be a little long but I hope you find some of this helpful and relevant to the topic.

You simply have to prioritise who, out of all the many companies demanding bills be paid actually get paid. You have no choice with Telstra, but I and many others have sucessfully witheld payment for gas, electricity and water for months, even years until you move house. Always use an alias when setting up accounts with essential service utilities, and I include telephone/internet in that.

Centrelink has set up a system where the only way to survive is to lie to them, most of their staff seem to be aware of this and turn a blind eye. Work for cash, but don’t tell. Sell on eBay but don’t tell. Have garage sales, sell on Facebook. Borrow money from friends or family to pay rego (which the bastards allow you to pay in 6 month amounts, no actual discount, if you’re low income). If you can’t afford rego but need a car, well sometimes needs outweigh arbitrary laws, that won’t help you pay for fuel though. If you get pulled over then the fine is stupendous, about $700 but the cops will usually let you drive away anyway and it makes the police just another hand asking for money for you to ignore.

Make sure you use your time wisely, study, look for work a long way away (overseas is great and gets all the debt collectors off your back as well). Every now and then save up enough or get a temporary cash in hand job that gives you enough to tell Centrelink to shove their payments. That way you drop out of the system before they start getting too needy and the Job Network parasites begin feeling pressured to make you waste time doing random group meetings. Whatever you do though don’t just follow their program of JN meetings and Centrelink catch ups and applying for jobs online or in the newspapers. Tell Centrelink you’re dropping out because you can’t handle the stress of working in with them any more, the response will amaze you, suddenly they’ll be calling up making sure you’re ok and offering you fast track back onto payments.

You need to spend the time doing what actually works for you, and will come to something in the long term. Whilst you are entitled to the money try not to see it as something you are guaranteed, cover your own arse and make sure you have something to fall back on in case you accidentally miss one two many appointments and get cut off. Remember that it’s about human survival, so get money from wherever you can, one source might be Newstart but if it’s your only source (the way they would like it) then you’re in for a rough ride.

Be ultra friendly with Centrelink staff, try to become friends with them, they are often very lonely people who get shouted at a lot by others. Same goes for Job Network staff. Act as though you’ve got great plans, but things just went a bit sour, you need a bit of time to get your shit together (but never actually swear to them), that should give you at least 12 months of payments without too much hassle. You’re opening a business, arguing with university about getting back onto course, HECS is messing you around. If one provider is starting to take up too much of your time then ask to be moved to another, say you don’t like them.

Don’t lose your temper or get aggresive, they’ll have police on you before you can get out the door, Be polite but firm with them.

If they say one way won’t work ask them, “well what do you suggest I do, if you were me, how do we fix this, how do we work around this?”. They’ll get such a kick out of being able to show their amazing knowledge of the system that they’ll often give you the work around. I’ve known people to be told by one person that they simply aren’t eligible for payments then five minutes later have that same person explaining how they can work around the system. I’ve had people come to me in tears that they’ve had their application rejected formally then half an hour later, after I’ve spoken to Centrelink, have payments started and even emergency payments and offers to get them into housing THAT NIGHT!

It can be done, living on Newstart, but only if you first see it as part of the survival process. If you’re at that point then things are pretty grim, take the money and run and don’t bother following their rules. My most important piece of advice, be invisible. Don’t use your real name, pay in cash. If you need a quick buck then over draw your bank account (most banks will let you take out at least 300 with no official overdraft from their own ATMs), then set up a new bank account before your next Newstart payment.

Yes, you’ll be running from a lot of different people demanding money, just keep running until you land on your feet and don’t let them corner you. Drag out essential services bills for as long as you can, then, at the very last second till midnight, right before they cut you off, or even just after they cut you off, then’s the time to ring to ombudsman and get yourself reconnected with an arbitrary promise to work out a payment plan. There are other, slightly less legal but nonetheless popular ways to maintain some essential services which I won’t go in to here.

In the end, the bastards at Centrelink and the Job Network agencies will do everything they can to make your life a misery. The up side to that is that you’ll lose any feelings of guilt while you lie, bluff and cheat your way through to the other side.

10 years ago

If I had no rent or no mortgage to pay in my case then I could survive on Newstart instead of barely survive.

Between 51 & 55% of my Newstart goes on the Mortgage using the maximum Newstart figure

15-16% on property and water rates
20-21% on utilities
1-9% on Medical/Health/Education expenses

Before we even get onto groceries and other living expenses, you’ll note the higher figures take us over 100% already.

5-13% on Groceries and living expenses

On the lower figures that leaves about 8% for Groceries and Living expenses

Now my mortgage is low but my income is even lower. I live as close to the bone as possible. What makes it tolerable is a small amount of bank interest. However this seems to be a luxury of a homeowner as I believe typical single individuals are only allowed $3000 in their bank account (I have seen reports of $5000 but nothing official) and homeowners are allowed over $150 000 in the bank.

This makes it near impossible for anyone to save money to be presentable for interviews and such or just live life. Add the cost of owning a car (which I don’t) for flexible transport and it becomes even more impossible.

On average, an additional $30 a fortnight would allow me to break even, not save but break even and truly just survive

That brings us to unemployment rate for my area which is about 7.6% up from about 6.8%. So that tells you about the limited number of jobs available in the area.

On to Job Services Australia whose job is to make you more employable, not find you a job. That’s the individual’s job – sounds reasonable if there are jobs in your area. An educated individual can make themselves more employable without jumping through the JSA/Centrelink hoops – the only advantage is they pay for some of the education aspect of being more employable (I don’t know the truth of the matter but I’ve been led to be believed this portion about the only useful thing JSA offers has been significantly cut). All Centrelink seems to do apart from pay you is regulate that you’re doing what JSA tells you.

And after hearing No to Jobs in your area multiple times over a significant period or being told you’re overqualified, it is very discouraging, so you just do what your told to do to plod along and barely survive feeling absolutely terrible.

The solution is pretty clear, move. Wait, you can’t afford to. Even if you manage to you are low on confidence, asked to do a greater number of hoop jumping in the name of making yourself more employable when the jobs aren’t there either. Now you’re missing your family and social support network, still hearing no and your confidence is even lower. You consider quite deliberately NOT SURVIVING AT ALL

Now low on confidence, jumping hoops just to survive, you’re too busy to give it a good go at seeking employment.

The consultants at JSA don’t care, they get paid for their make-work of ticking a few boxes and adding nothing to your cause

Alternatively you get caught up “volunteering” during the Compulsory Activity Phase that you’re working and not getting paid but it increases confidence and self-esteem but you’ve “worked” so it discourages you from seeking paid work

Soon you’re too busy living the life you’re told to instead of the one you want to.

A solution like being allowed to earn $100 more before losing some of the payment is useless if the jobs aren’t there.

A solution would be to allow say up to $10000 in savings – as this is roughly the amount you have to have to live on – plus additional money that shows your capacity to pay to get a loan. This would also allow people that somehow manage to save on NS be able to save for a car and all those other costs.

I did tend to diverge from my story to a generic story but the principles are the same.

And I haven’t even touched on the stigma. In my case, if I got the maximum rent allowance as a supplement or some such to my mortgage costs I could live contently barring drastic unexpected medical or funereal expenses. And this is from someone without a cigarette or alcohol vice.

Nola May
Nola May
10 years ago

I cant believe everything I hear about people not being able to live of Newstart. I have been on newstart for one year now in that entire time I have never even had cause to borrow money from friend or family because it is sufficent. I pay $200 a week in rent and electricity (I’m careful with electricity no heater or airconditioner) and then I have $110 a week to spend I usually spend about $50 a week on food and I think I eat very well and with the other $60 I can do whatever I like. Sometimes I even go out to my local cafe and enjoy a meal. I dont have a car (which I consider a luxury in any case). I just bought a whole heap of really nice clothes at my local op shop the other day for $20. In terms of entertainment I have a library card which gives me access to a fantastic range of books and occassionally I join my friends at the pub and instead of drinking alcohol I get a glass of cordial (which most bars will give you for free) and I still get to enjoy hanging with my mates. I think people are really really ridiculious these days with the sense of entitlement they have. its pathetic really. I’m also of to the dentist next week free courtesy of the government to have my teeth cleaned and I’m finding myself getting so fit because to say money I walk if I can instead of getting the bus.The people that say they cant live on Newstart need to get a grip

10 years ago
Reply to  Nola May

How do you get so much money? Unless your getting it for dependents.. I am not getting but 432.06 every fort note .. I pay 180(360FN) week in rent .. Its cheapest place i can find.gas in my car and alot stuff on sale in supermarkets . I have to skip meals.. I eat oatmeal or bread products and pastries when they are on sale..I need medications I spend on before food. How are you surviving? My doctors says I can work 5 hours a week.. I can’t find a job because I been at home so long and my condition’s people are afraid to hire me..But I am not qualified disabled. (Declined) ….I just want to know how you are being that much.. Id be ok too if I was.. is all…

Nola May
Nola May
10 years ago
Reply to  Shazzy

Hi Shazzy $500 is the standard rate of new start for a single person without dependants on top of this an additional $120 of rent assistance is available. with the amount of rent you pay you would be entitled to rent assistance, so I am unsure as to why you are not recieving it. I’m not sure where you live but I have moved out of the city to a regional area and life is a lot easier and I also have a job now. I was told repeatedly by my job network people that noone would want to hire me because I had been out of work for sometime. but dont listen to those people, someone will give you a go. even if its just one day a week that would improve your situation and it may suit an employer whose just looking for someone one day a week etc etc. Ive been at rock bottom and felt hopeless, but if I didnt pick myself up and try and improve things then whose really going to care ?

john r walker
10 years ago

Obviously the amount of rent (or mortgage) you have to pay is a big factor. And unfortunately housing costs map closely to job availability. Utility costs also vary, you can get by without heating in much of Australia, but in some regions like for example the Canberra region, when its -5C, no heating is not really an option.

Electricity costs have in real terms increased , in real terms, by %70 in the past few years, rents in urban areas have also soared , council rates in my town have gone from $1,200 to $2,500 in the past 7 years, in NSW the green slip/pink slip cost for a car is now more than $670 and so on.

Perhaps the real problem is excessive costs ?

Nola May
Nola May
10 years ago

No doubt costs have soared, However people in Australia do have a massive sense of entitlement so the problem is a bit of both. I live in Sydney which I think is quite an expensive place to live. When I lost my job I had to modify my lifestyle to suit my new circumstances. I got rid of my car, I moved out of my flat and rented a room in a boarding house and reduced my costs in other ways, for example I have a phone which only accepts incoming calls and cost me nothing to run.. Its all simply a case of finding a lifestyle which suits your current budget. Would I like an extra $50 per week off course !!! I would be able to save that money and go on a nice holiday at the end of the year!. I am not trying to say that living on the dole is a life of luxury, but it can be done and its not the soul destroying experience that many people are trying to make it out to be. In fact for me personally it has helped me to grow as a person, living in the boarding house I have been able to meet some very interesting people whose problems far exceed my own and have helped me to put my own situation into perspective, additionally I have come to realise how little I really need to live on and how wasteful I have been in the past. I have learnt to be very frugal and not to waste anything. I have also found great pleasure in recylcing, like for example I made a curtain out of old clothes and a coffee table from an spiel I found at a junkyard. etc etc. All these things will hold me in good stead for when I do find employment as I will maintain my current frugal lifestyle and be able to save alot of money from my wage. My advice to people living on the dole is to remember that anything other than a roof over your head and food on the table is actually a luxury and one shouldnt get upset and think that life is depressing and oppressive simply because you cannot have luxuries. You have time read books, do some volunteer work, go for walks, write a book, teach yourself to draw, go for long walks, make your own bread etc etc