Two major changes happened in my life on Thursday, one pleasant the other not so. The pleasant change was the arrival of my Yamaha P35 Digital Piano in the house. The other change was the departure of RB, one of my fellow boarders here in my present sanctuary and sacred place.
RB’s departure was precipitated by a mental health crisis triggered, in part, by Centrelink’s rejection of his application for the Disability Support Pension (DSP). Thanks to Centrelink’s byzantine internal organisation, this decision was made by an assessor somewhere in Lower Woop Woop South, a few hundred miles away from here, safely shielded from any personal contact with the clients whose well-being is subject to his bureaucratic whim. Like RB.
To some extent – a very minor extent – RB’s crisis was self inflicted. He was looking forward, a little too optimistically, to the windfall of about $2,000 of backpaid DSP. He forgot this little rule of survival on Newstart: ‘[While] you are entitled to the money try not to see it as something you are guaranteed‘. So he was devastated when his application was rejected and the fact that he could appeal the decision was little consolation. Until the appeal was heard he would still have to get by on NewStart, shut out of the more comfortable circle of people like me who have been ‘parked’ on the DSPi.
Thanks to a few ticks and crosses, some scribbled notes and a scrawled signature on a Centrelink internal form his spirit was broken. He responded by taking to the drink in a viciously self-destructive way. He took the indifference of the bureaucracy – and the governments that have cultivated that indifference – too much to heart and responded with a self-loathing so extreme that he wanted the rest of us who live here to loath him as much as he loathed himself. Been there, done that, didn’t really like it.
As he had in response to previous crises, he drank himself into such a deep state of intoxication that an ambulance had to be called. He was hospitalised overnight and discharged the next day despite the objections of our landlady Jo, the friend who sat with me for six hours at the local hospital during my own recent crisis. She knew from experience – as did we all – what was coming next.
On his return from hospital, RB went straight to the kitchen and started work on cooking a Shepherd’s Pie for our household dinner; a fairly obvious act of atonement best accepted without comment. But, once the potatoes were peeled and simmering on the stove, alongside a pot of chopped carrots and beside the stove a plate of sliced onions he announced that he was going out for ten minutes. The potatoes would be cooked by the time he got back and then he’d get on with the next stage of the cooking.
Ten minutes drew out to half an hour – enough time to walk to the local bottle-o and back – then an hour with no sign of RB’s return. Jo and her husband John came home from work but there was still no sign of RB. He finally arrived home while Jo was completing the Shepherd’s Pie he had started and it was about to go in the oven.
While we were eating dinner it became very obvious that RB was, once again, intoxicated. We lifted him out of his chair at the dining table, carried him to his room and made him as comfortable as we could in the ‘coma position’. Jo called for an ambulance and the rest of the night played out much as things happened the last time RB was released from hospital prematurely.
The last time I saw RB was when he came back to the house to pick up some of his things. He went silently to his room. I left him alone, perhaps a little too wrapped up in playing with my shiny new digital piano but I also couldn’t think anything to say to him that would not have hurt. Even a simple ‘Good luck, take care of yourself’ would have been a cruelty.
We think he’s finally been admitted to rehab but today I’m not so sure he actually got there. I’d have a much more optimistic view if he’d come here accompanied and supported by a social worker instead of having been left to his own devices.
We will adopt a smarter approach to the disability pension that distinguishes between disabilities that are likely to be permanent and those that are not, which will help to prevent older unemployed people being parked on welfare.
In plain English: older workers currently ‘parked’ on the DSP will be re-parked on NewStart which will be much cheaper for the government.