When Arie was 16, he was living in Warrnambool in south-west Victoria. Up until he was 21, Arie was on the Newstart allowance, but it wasn’t nearly enough. He struggled to afford basic living expenses and often went without groceries. This is Arie’s story, and why he believes it’s important to increase these kinds of payments.
I moved out of my parents’ house when I was just 16 years old. After moving between towns for six months, crashing on friends couches and spare beds, I finally settled in Warrnambool, Victoria.
I managed to get onto the Newstart Youth Allowance, which was a really hard process, particularly as I was dealing with issues of family and domestic violence.
I found a place and started to pay rent, which was okay at the time because it included utilities so I was left with around $150 per fortnight out of my $455 payment to get groceries.
This was okay for a while, but not long after my seventeenth birthday, I moved out of the house I was in and into a house with my partner at the time. Between both of us, due to being in a relationship, our payments were almost halved.
We received roughly $500 per fortnight, getting paid on alternate weeks. This might seem okay, however our rent at the time for a small, run-down two-bedroom unit was $220 per week.
After electricity, gas, water, credit and any other bills that came our way, we had no spare money. Sometimes we went weeks without being able to do grocery shopping.
It’s not that easy to “just get a job” – especially in regional Australia
I’ve heard some people use the argument “why weren’t you looking for work?” or “just get a job” – which yes, in the big cities could be possible. However in rural and regional areas all across the country, unless you have qualifications, past experience, or both, it can be next to impossible for a young person to find work.
I can assure you that outside of trying to finish my year 11 and 12 Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), both me and my partner at the time were actively looking for work, and sometimes went months if not years without interviews.
The cost of living rises but payments don’t
The simple fact is that people need to listen. The cost of living in Australia is going up. In the past year alone it has raised by 2.4%. Newstart hasn’t had a real increase in 25 years.
At $40 per day, it’s not enough to get people through tough times and into work, says Jacqueline Phillips, Acting CEO of the Australia Council of Social Service (ACOSS). Now people and youth organisations around Australia are advocating to raise the rate.
Increase Newstart and consider other allowances too
To me, an increase to Newstart doesn’t have to be a straight-up increase.
Other payments could be considered, like changing Rent Assistance to something more realistic. Right now, the payment is capped at $135 per fortnight once your rent hits $180 week, so anything over $180 and you’re on your own. When average rent prices in regional Victoria are $320 per week, and $430 in metropolitan Melbourne, it’s only covering a quarter of the fortnightly rent cost in regional Victoria, and even less in Melbourne.
The Telephone Allowance could also be increased – every three months you only get $29.60, which doesn’t even cover one month’s phone credit for me. The Pharmaceutical Allowance could be increased too, especially for those requiring multiple, regular life-saving medications. Right now it’s $6.20 per fortnight, which doesn’t even cover the cost of one script. Increasing other payments would take the pressure off these costs and make the Newstart payment go further for people.
Finally, more thought could be put into changing how Work For The Dole works so that participants actually get a decent increase to their payments for doing work in the community that comes under this category.
If anything in this article raises any concerns or issues for you, please contact a relevant support service – Beyond Blue (Ph: 1300 224 636), Lifeline (Ph: 13 11 14) or Headspace (Ph: 1800 650 890). If your life is in immediate danger, please call 000.
Arie’s story came to us through Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), a peak body and advocate for young people and youth workers in Victoria. We also thank YACVic Rural, which expands its youth advocacy in rural and regional communities.