Politics

Elderly, disabled, jobless or homeless? The Coalition is still blaming you

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Jack, who lives on Melbourne's streets. (Image by Cincotta Photography courtesy @HumansinMelb).

Despite the myriad of studies highlighting Australia's growing inequality, the take-home message from the Turnbull Government is, if you’re poor, it’s your fault. Senior editor Michelle Pini reports.

THIS TIME LAST YEAR, IA reported on the ways in which the Turnbull Government was not only failing Australia’s elderly, disabled, jobless and homeless but was blaming them for their own predicament.

Certainly, there have been no discernible policies designed to help people out of poverty in the last 12 months. The tendency to heap guilt on the impoverished and most vulnerable in our society, however, has since been honed into an artform.

Not content with cutting wages, social welfare, education, health and foreign aid, this Coalition Government has relentlessly targeted the elderly, the sick and the needy by ensuring the gap between the wealthy and everybody else continues to grow. 

It has embraced the comprehensively discredited trickle-down economics approach with the zeal of Margaret Thatcher. The Turnbull Government has ignored all evidence to the contrary, suffered constant policy rejection in the Senate and lost its 30th Newspoll in a row, but it has resolutely continued to flog its wildly unpopular tax cuts for big business, along with paywelfare and service cuts for everyone else.

At the same time, the level of disenfranchised people among us is greater than ever before — this is undisputed and confirmed by both government and independent studies.

A Foodbank report, 'Rumbling tummies: Child hunger in Australia', found that one in five children are going hungry, missing meals on a regular basis and living in households where food insecurity is a fact of life. 

An estimated 13 per cent of Australians are reported to be living below the poverty line. The unreported number is believed to be much higher. 

This IA report by Gerry Georgatos delved into Australia's unreported poverty and its toll on the vulnerable, including the elderly: 

Australian pensioners will increasingly make up a significant proportion of Australian poverty. Today, a pension averages about $20,000 a year and it is more than tough going — it is punishing. For many, there is psychologically damaging and irrecoverable trauma. The aged pension is, in fact, poverty.

In 20 years, the pension will be worth the equivalent of $70 per week comparative to today’s value — dirt-poor living. Unless Australians have their home paid off by their retirement and one million dollars saved in superannuation, they will live their last stretch of life in poverty. With the passing of each year, fewer Australians will be on track to achieve this and, soon enough, it will be near impossible for the majority to come anywhere near close.

That the Government is not addressing these issues is obvious, but its seemingly manic determination to forge ahead with policies that will only compound this inequality is astounding.

Despite promising to uphold the NDIS, cuts to disability entitlements and aid institutions together with reduced accessibility have been implemented, with devastating consequences for Australia's disabled.

Jobs growth figures are continually inflated with people who work as little as an hour per week in insecure employment and then no longer qualify as "unemployed". Inflated figures notwithstanding, unemployment has still increased to 5.6 per cent.

Programs such as Newstart have created an underclass of (mainly) young people who are disadvantaged for attempting to lift themselves out of poverty.

Instead of consulting with Indigenous communities on strategies to deal with social problems, the Government has introduced and extended its "world first" cashless welfare card — a discriminatory tool which has been described as treating Indigenous Australians as "third class citizens".

Prime Minister Turnbull, however, describes it as:

“... an exercise in practical love, in compassion, in ensuring the taxpayers’ dollars are not being spent on substance abuse and drugs leading to violence.”

Despite the spectacular failure of #RoboDebt, the Turnbull Government has pursued ever more sophisticated ways in which to continue targeting so-called "welfare cheats", with the latest instalment passing the Senate. 

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie had this to say about the bill:

"This bill will increase already shockingly high homelessness numbers. More than 80,000 people stand to be cut off from payments after just 12 months of this new legislation." 

Despite vehement opposition from health professionals and aid agencies, the Government is also continuing its plans to subject welfare recipients to random drug tests. 

While being poor is no longer reason enough to qualify for government assistance, it now also bears a mark of shame previously unequalled in Australia’s history. In short, the take-home message from our Government is, if you’re poor, it’s your fault.

A myriad of studies and reports have highlighted Australia's growing inequality but our Government does not appear to be listening. This affects real people — like you, and me, and Jack – featured in our cover shot – who now lives on Melbourne's streets. 

Jack says:

Today has been okay, but yesterday was pretty bad. I've been homeless for about a year now. I never would have thought that would happen to me but ... here I am, brother.

I was married with two kids. We were childhood sweethearts. We met when we were 14 and were together for 19 years.

I worked hard to provide for my family but it seemed like I could never get on top of our finances. My ex-wife told me she loved me so much that she'd live in the gutter with me but even after I worked so hard and bought her a house it wasn't good enough. It always felt like money kind of ruled our lives and that nothing I did was really enough. It really got me down and I fell into depression.

I used to try and relax by smoking a bit of pot now and then but my wife didn't like it. She gave me so many warnings but I just didn't pay attention. Then one day she said, that's it, no more chances.

We got divorced. I was still working at this time and kept on working for a year after but then my depression got so bad I couldn't work anymore. 

I managed to stay off the streets for a while. I couch-surfed for a bit and then I was with my mate at his place but he lost it and now we are homeless together. 

I never really know what each day holds — some are good, some are bad. I'm just happy today is a good one.

You can follow senior editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9.

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