Living below the bread and sausage line

By John Lewis

Anti-poverty campaigners were served half a sausage at a Shepparton barbecue yesterday to highlight the challenge of living on the government's Newstart allowance.

Family Care staff, social workers, welfare providers, students and other supporters gathered at Queens Gardens to support the Australian Council of Social Services campaign to Raise The Rate and call for a raise of $75 a week for Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients.

Goulburn Murray Social Workers Group member Carol Reid said the aim was to leave people hungry by serving serve half a sausage — in recognition of people on Newstart who do not have enough for basic needs.

“This is symbolic of all those people, such as single mums, who are forced to cut back on food,” Ms Reid said. "It's really demeaning, you're always having to justify your spending.”

Fellow social worker Lauren Barker said while Newstart had not been increased for 25 years, the cost of living, especially housing, had "gone through the roof".

“Newstart recipients in the Goulburn Valley are experiencing homelessnes, poverty and huge barriers in accessing employment,” Ms Barker said.

Family Care chief executive David Tennant said the most recent figures showed 2657 people in Shepparton received Newstart — a slight improvement on figures released earlier this year.

“But the reality is that if you give people $75 extra a week, the multiplier effect amounts to about $10.4 million extra overall,” Mr Tennant said. "People will spend that money on essentials not on holidays or luxury items — which is great for the community.”

He said Essential Research polling showed 70 per cent of Australians supported an increase to Newstart.

Mr Tennant thanked Greater Shepparton City Council for supporting the ACOSS campaign.

Yesterday's crowd listened to an emotional speech from 61-year-old grandmother Wendy Boyle, who said since her husband died suddenly in March she had been forced to rely on Newstart.

“Since the Federal Government abolished the widow's pension, I have no income, and due to health issues I have not worked for a number of years. My husband's wage has supported us both,” Mrs Boyle said.

She said due to the government's legislation changes, she was six years away from being eligible for the Age Pension.

“I am not a dole bludger — circumstance and the system put in place by government has provided me this indignity and embarrassment,” she said.

Mrs Boyle criticised federal politicians accepting a pay rise while refusing to raise the Newstart allowance, which is now equivalent to a 1994 low income.

She appealed to those in government to raise the Newstart rate.

“You need to address the disgusting, soul-destroying, psychologically disturbing, heart-breaking lack of financial support provided to those in need of assistance,” Mrs Boyle said.