Welfare versus Faring Well

The comments I’ve received about yesterday’s post were truly overwhelming. As a result, I found myself suffering slightly from Second Post Syndrome today. While some of my posts will be well-structured essays, some will simply be a little more of the rambling, personal variety. The following is probably in the latter category.

I awoke this morning to the news that Julia Gillard plans to whip Australia’s welfare bludgers into shape. According to the Red Hen, “The social and economic reality of our country is that there are people who can work, who do not.”

It made me think back to the period of February-March 2009. I had just finished up work running a month-long theatrical season and was ready to embark on the next stage of my career. With more experience under my belt than ever before and a good work history, I figured I’d find the right position fairly easily.

Of course, in retrospect, the middle of the Global Financial Crisis was actually a rather awful time to search for a job in the arts and events fields.

When I first started looking, utterly convinced of my employability and worth, I was looking for professional or semi-professional positions within the arts and entertainment industries. Anything less simply wasn’t on my radar – after all, I’d just singlehandedly managed a major theatre event! I was bright, young and educated! What employer wouldn’t want me? As it happens, the answer was “all of them”.

Over time, as fewer “ideal” jobs were advertised and my limited funds were running lower and lower, I began to “relax” the criteria for the jobs I would consider. In short, I became desperate; I would have happily gone back to coffeemaking – hell, dishwashing! – if someone would have just hired me, but even those calls and letters of application went unreturned.

When I think back to how I spent my days during those long weeks, my mind conjures up a miserable blur, tinged with depression and self-flagellation. I slept, scoured job ads obsessively, and sent off more resumes and cover letters than I’d thought possible to write in one lifetime. I had no money, and after a few weeks, no self-esteem.

All up, I was out of work for about two and a half months. When I did eventually get a job (a not-so-well-paid glorified reception role) I was so grateful and relieved that I stayed for over a year, despite a hostile work environment that verged on abusive. (Fortunately, my career has taken me to some much better workplaces since then.)

When I tell people about this time in my life, they usually say the same thing: “Why didn’t you just go on the dole?”

While I appreciate that, in theory, Centrelink is there to support people in the position I was in, I fought with every fibre of my being against taking that step. As one of my favourite Australian hip hop artists once furiously said, “I’ll tighten my belt/ before I need help.” The dole, I felt, was there for people who had genuine barriers standing between them and work – not just my run of crappy luck.

Still, if I hadn’t gotten a job when I did, there’s no question that I would have had to turn to Centrelink. I had absolutely no more options at that point.

So, this post goes out to the people in similar situations, who would have read Ms Gillard’s comments this morning with a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Now, I’m sure there are many people for whom Julia’s comments are justified. No doubt there are folk who claim welfare benefits and are entirely happy with the situation, with no desire to work.

However, I suspect that there are many, many people out there who are waking up tired and miserable, rationing out a cup of instant coffee ever-so-carefully and frantically searching through the job advertisements, day after day. I can only imagine how desperate and downtrodden they must be feeling. If, while I was unemployed, I had read statements like hers about the supposed bounty of mythical mining jobs and “incentives” to get people back into the workforce, I would have cried.

Even more hurt, surely, are the people who, despite physical or mental impairments, want to contribute to the workforce and earn their own living, but face constant rejection by potential employers.

Not everyone who claims welfare is doing so with pride, or even acceptance. For those that have been forced to do so, I imagine that turning up at that Centrelink office and filling out those forms was probably one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.

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About missaleksia

Street press journalist and culture vulture based in Melbourne, Australia. I enjoy Australian hip hop, obsessively following television shows, healthy debate, baking and wine. My views are my own. Keep up to date with me on Twitter: @missaleksia
This entry was posted in Hey, that IS what she said. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Welfare versus Faring Well

  1. Common story. Depressing. Are our leaders sociopaths?

  2. melinda says:

    You show remarkable empathy and your writing is so readable. I’m fast losing faith in Gillard.

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