It's a daily battle just to survive when living on Newstart

Newstart: It's a daily battle just to survive

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Could you survive on just $40 a day?

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COULD you live on $40 a day? That's the reality for the thousands of Australians on the Newstart allowance, with charity providers saying demand for services is ever-increasing.

Despite growing pressure to increase the payment by $75 a week, the federal government in August ruled out any changes, saying it is instead focused on job creation.

But what is it really like to live on Newstart, and how are welfare recipients surviving?

One Newstart recipient in his late 50s who spoke to Australian Community Media found himself out of work two years ago as the result of budget cuts.

Chris says he has struggled to find work since and says potential employers see his age as a barrier. He struggles to survive on his payment and has been forced to borrow from his super, just to survive.

He said he has learned to live as cheaply as possible, and survives on toast for most evening meals.

He said losing his job and ending up on welfare was the last thing he ever expected to happen, and believes people look at him differently now.

"I think people don't see me the same way as they did a couple of years ago," he said.

Another Newstart recipient said it was essential to find savings with the weekly food bill in order to get by.

"I did a lot of shopping at Aldi, it's is great when you've really got to make your money stretch out," he said.

He said he basically survived on pasta and carbs.

"You can get 500 grams of pasta for 60 cents," he said.

"Boil that up with a bit of olive oil and garlic, and Parmesan cheese and you've got your meal [but] it's pretty tough."

'It's humiliating, degrading'

Mark, who lives in Central West NSW, is in his late 20s has had two stints on Newstart allowance. He spoke candidly to Australian Community Media about the difficulties of trying to survive.

He said the first time he was on it was when he was 25, and received between $600 and $700 per fortnight, which included his Newstart payments and rent assistance.

At the time he was living with a friend, which he said was a saving grace. On weeks when he couldn't make the rent, his friend was understanding and didn't get too stressed if it came a little late.

Mark said things were always tight while he was on Newstart.

"Because I was being paid fortnightly as soon as you pay your rent that's $300 gone, which leaves you $150 a week to pay for everything; food, petrol, car costs and phone bill. It's not a lot to play with," he said.

"You hear about people with young families, I really don't know how they do it.

"I was just really lucky my house mate was really understanding. The only way I did survive is I had a bit of money set aside from when I was previously working."

Mark said existing debts made surviving on Newstart even more difficult.

"I was paying off debts from uni and a car loan. I didn't go out, I didn't do anything," he said.

He said those on the allowance also had to jump through a lot of hoops with job service providers who, he said, were not always very helpful.

Of the job interviews he landed, Mark said he sourced the majority himself.

When he did find some casual work he said he had to take an hour and a half off on his first shift to attend a compulsory meeting with the service provider, or risk having his payment cut off.

When he got there he said he felt belittled by staff, who he said seemed more interested in trying to catch him out doing the wrong thing than helping him get a job.

While Mark has found work now, he said he dreads the thought of ever having to rely on Newstart again.

He said unless you've had to try and survive on it, people don't realise how tough it is.

"It's humiliating and degrading," he said.

"The people who are on it, it's not because they are lazy or don't want to work ... They really haven't got any other option."

Even on Newstart, more people are needing help

DEMAND for charities to help low income families and individuals is now so high that they are turning away some people seeking help.

In the last four months in Dubbo, in Central West NSW, the Salvation Army has seen a real increase in the number of people needing help, whether it be free lunches or other assistance.

Salvation Army Orana region Captain David Sutcliffe said the charity is using its entire budget week in and week out.

"It's getting to the point where we have to turn people away and send them to other agencies because we just don't have the capabilities for the numbers who keep turning up," he said.

Salvation Army Orana region Captain David Sutcliffe.

Salvation Army Orana region Captain David Sutcliffe.

Captain Sutcliffe said many of their clients are on Newstart payments.

"A lot of people who come to us seeking assistance are either on Newstart or the disability pension," he said.

"I'd say about 90 per cent of the people we see are in either of these categories.

"They come to us because they are struggling to make ends meet. The costs of living are going up, the drought is making the price of food go up and Newstart hasn't moved a lot."

They come to us because they are struggling to make ends meet. - Salvation Army Orana region Captain David Sutcliffe

Captain Sutcliffe said there are two reasons most of their clients seek the Salvos' help: either assistance meeting their weekly financial obligations or looking for a free meal.

He said the Salvos have free lunches twice a week and also small supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables that clients can access.

"We usually get up to 40 people a day there. They come in for a meal and if we didn't provide it, they would probably be going without ... including the kids," he said.

It's a similar story at Anglicare Orange, in NSW's Central West.

Anglicare Orange community development officer Barry Porter.

Anglicare Orange community development officer Barry Porter.

While there is no duty for clients to disclose their income source, making it difficult to say how many are on Newstart or other government payments, Anglicare's community development officer Barry Porter said one thing is certain: Demand for their services is ever-increasing.

"What I can say is emergency relief numbers are up, and up significantly. There is still a great need for help," he said.

Cost of housing is just one issue. Once they pay rent, many clients have as little as $50 a week left to pay for food, electricity and other costs of living.

Other clients seeking assistance are fleeing situations of domestic violence and often have little more than the clothing on their backs when they leave.

One way Anglicare helps people in need is by providing free, nutritious food.

In Orange, clients meet at Marang Gunya where they come together as a group to cook food which they then share and also package for others seeking emergency relief.

"Without this [service] some of them literally don't have a meal for them or their family for the night, or for the week."

Some of them literally don't have a meal for them or their family for the night. - Anglicare Orange community development officer Barry Porter

Mr Porter said social inclusion could also be a big issue for people who were struggling to pay for the basics - particularly if they had a young family to support as well.

"You can't really participate in the community when you don't have enough money to buy food," he said.

"[Then there are] nappies, food, formula, things for their school lunches. There are absolutely people in our community who just can't afford these things. It's absolutely real."

Captain Sutcliffe said the most important step for people who might be struggling is to speak up and make contact early.

"We have two financial consultants who are amazing, so please don't wait until the debt collectors are knocking on your door or you're about to lose your home. That's when it does become very difficult," he said.

"We deal with people in crisis every day and there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.

"That's what we are here for."

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