Raise the Rate


This is a very personal post, but one I must share. Twelve years ago, I had savings, and was going to purchase a house. I worked whilst navigating a fall that saw me break my spine again, and a toddler-aged daughter. I was always cautious with finances, ensuring that I paid bills on time. I had been on a disability pension from the age of seventeen, to my twenties. A dear lady named Dorothy came up to the house from Centrelink, imploring me to quit being stubborn and accept the help that was being offered. I did so reluctantly, after having had surgery to save my life, after my heart and lungs were being crushed due to a hip grafted into my spine, which hadn’t taken. Upon my engagement, I gleefully contacted Centrelink, advising them of my situation, and the payments ceased. I didn’t claim anything from Centrelink in the ensuing years. I had a business, and work. A marriage breakdown changed everything. It’s paralysing, the terror that skulks up on you in the middle of the night, knowing that you are entirely responsible for the well-being of your child. 

The investments were cashed in, and my savings dwindled over the next couple of years. Operations and other expenses took what was left. It was only when I was at crisis point, that I was able to claim anything from Centrelink. The industries I had been in were now either dying or defunct, and studying new pathways was required. I asked about Austudy, but was told that it would be even less than Newstart. I studied two full-time courses. Medical Admin saw me having to travel to pracs, and I would pray that there was enough on my Opal card to make the journey there and back. 

$450.76…This is what I was living on whilst studying. $450.76 a week, consisting of Job Seeker (or Newstart allowance as it was back then), Family Tax Benefit A and B, Energy Supplement and Rent assistance. My rent alone was $430 a week, which left just $20.76 to live on. My rental is humble, one of the cheapest in the area. I had to let go of seeing a dentist, optometrist, and also of my private health insurance. When my teeth hurt, I would go through bottles of local anaesthetic, dabbing it on the exposed nerves. I couldn’t afford scripts for my pericarditis, nor for other health issues. I had to forgo the fruit and veg box I’d ordered for the past decade.

I took whatever casual work I could, so we could buy food. I worked as an extra on a series, and (dressed in summer clothes, even though it was winter), came down with pneumonia. It was a heartache, having to scrounge together the money to afford medicines. I would do anything and everything for work, and ensured I never missed a rent payment. Birthday celebrations had to be abandoned. I would back out of any social invitations. I felt ashamed, fearing nobody would understand, not knowing how to divulge the reality of my life. I became paranoid about stretching our pantry items, and basically ceased eating regular meals at all. Everything was my daughter’s, and hers alone. I daren’t invite anyone over, as there wasn’t enough food to offer them a meal. I raced through my studies, anxious to get a job. I applied for scores of positions, but there were tens of applicants for each one, some of whom had more experience than I. It was soul-destroying, when it was down to the last three applicants, and I was pipped to the post. If it weren’t for a few dear people, I wouldn’t have been able to afford school uniforms, printer ink, stationery, and other essentials. Kindness bought work boots, a medical transcription course and hope. It bought hand sanitiser, a stocked pantry and medical supplies shortly before the pandemic crashed in. The one thing I’d been determined to hold onto was my life insurance. I started to believe that perhaps, I was worth more dead than alive; my daughter would at least have security. The level of despair ran deep. 

Covid-19 hit in March, and everything started to change. I had recently obtained my White Card and other tickets, only having one assessment left to complete, on a work site. It renewed hope. The pandemic shut everything down, and suddenly, a large proportion of people were studying and working from home alongside me. Newstart was transferred into Job Seeker, and the amount received was doubled. I was able to order a fruit and veg box for $50; enough to see us through the next fortnight. I was able to pay bills without stressing. I was able to buy groceries, without having to seek help from a charity. I enrolled in several free courses through TAFE, and pretty much studied seven days a week throughout the next few months. I ate regular meals, and my health improved. I could afford medicine and medical appointments. I applied for as many jobs as I could throughout. 

Such was the shame attached to seeking support, that many in my circle never knew I’d needed to. It is exhausting, being stuck in poverty. I heard many talk about “dole-bludgers,” and it would sear my heart. I would have crawled over broken glass in order to secure a permanent job. I knew others in the same predicament who were willing to do anything to escape this wretched existence, too. Some should have been on a disability support payment, but the criteria was now ridiculous. Besides, they couldn’t afford the expense of seeing specialists to gather evidence. I didn’t have much to work with, when my world shattered. $20.76 a week after rent, doesn’t lend itself to dreams. It put me in a dangerous position, where I had to rely on someone not well enough to be dependable. A lot of people are left in this situation, and it is untenable.

I am now working, and know how fortunate I am. I was filled with terror at the thought of not finding work before the Jobseeker rate fell. I couldn’t bear the thought of being plunged into that level of poverty again. As a regular tax-payer, before Jobseeker and now, I am delighted to have my taxes pay for the rate to be permanently lifted. Nobody should have to endure poverty. Imagine not having the funds to buy medicines, nor fund a bus or train trip? Imagine not being able to afford to celebrate your child’s birthday? It is a lonely and miserable existence.

It is my fervent hope that 2020 brings with it a new awareness of each other, and that kindness shall prevail from hereon. I bumped into a well-dressed lady this past week, and she mentioned the community pantry. She spoke of her gratitude that she was able to grab food there. I have seen an elderly woman who lived through the Great Depression, scour the supermarket catalogue, circling what she intended to buy. Once the groceries were delivered, I watched her stand in front of her open fridge, gazing lovingly at the fresh produce. She was obsessed with food; the gathering of it, the preparation of it, and the feeding of loved ones. It was little wonder. She had lost siblings to starvation. When my fridge was filled, I too stood in front of the stainless steel door, looking in with wonder. What happened to me, can happen to anyone. It only takes a disaster or two to knock us about. Let’s concentrate on lifting each other up.

Single Parenthood


Fresh fruit and vegetables are put aside for the kids. Mum tells her offspring that she isn’t hungry right now, and will eat later. After they have retired for the night, she eats a plain biscuit, to curb the hunger pangs. The notes that find their way to the dining table from schoolbags, fill her with dread. $60 is required for the performing arts costume. $10 for a ticket to see her child perform. She tries to conjure money from thin air, and sometimes (miraculously), is successful.

She is studying full-time- along with many of her friends- and knows that a well-paying job shall be her reward at the end of her studies. She picks up casual work as much as she can, and tries to look after long-standing health issues, the scripts for which are stacked in the kitchen. She is unable to purchase any of them.

She inquired about going onto Austudy, but was told that it would be less than Newstart, a figure of which doesn’t even cover her rent. She wishes that she could obtain a Government loan, of which she would happily pay back once she was working. There is no money from the other parent, despite many promises. She somehow has to work out her budget with an unreliable co-parent.

Afterpay is a blessing, to purchase necessities, though school uniforms can only be purchased in the school shop. Made by a private company, they have the monopoly on the market, and charge accordingly. As a result, the kids have one uniform, which she washes and dries multiple times each week.

She had to ring the health fund and ask for a suspension on the grounds of hardship. Ironically, they can only do so if she is able to pay up to the date of the call. Her only option was to ask for an extension, and at the beginning of November, she will be required to pay an astronomical amount. Her front tooth is split all the way to the nerve, causing embarrassment and pain. She doesn’t want to let go of the health fund; not yet.

She and the kids only have a few dollars left on their Opal cards, and have to limit their trips. She fears that loved ones who are desperately unwell shall need her, and she will be unable to get to them.

She is cramming day and night, in a desperate bid to complete her studies before time. She needs a full-time job, which is an impossibility at the moment. She has a few prac sessions coming up, and needs experience before anyone will hire her. She needs money to get to prac.

Her heart broke when she discovered that her child didn’t tell her about a school excursion, and she knew that money was the reason he chose to stay behind at school.

She is trying to keep her spirits up. She is trying to cope. It feels as though she is being punished for leaving an abusive and toxic marriage. There was no settlement; he had spent everything they had, forcing her to withdraw her investments and savings. She gets why so many women feel forced into going back or staying when they are desperate to leave. Solutions are simplistic when you are on the outside, looking in. They aren’t at all simple when you are on the inside, looking out.

A hurried storyboard review of her former life is played as an animation. Rather than it occurring at the point of death, it begins at the point of life; true life. The lies, the promises, the dreams and goals. Her ten year projection, which didn’t come to pass. The myriad jobs she took to keep her head above water, the exhaustion and pain. Life shouldn’t consist of survival only, should it? She dreams of being secure, of having money to fall back on. She dreams of having money to go out with friends. She dreams of simple pleasures. She dreams of a time when her children have more than one uniform. She dreams of peace.

She dreams of a government which will support single parents as they start all over again. Her only crime was leaving before she was destroyed. For all the uncertainty and sacrifice, it has been worth it to live on her own terms. Finally, on her own terms.

Entitled by Janelle Scott


I learned about Entitled via a friend who volunteers with Shining Stars. Apparently, the author was going to donate $5.00 from every book sold to this charity. As winter descends, Shining Stars is needed more than ever. They feed the hungry, provide essentials to the homeless, ensure people fleeing domestic violence have clothes and furniture, and new mothers have all they need for their babies. I could easily wax lyrical about all they do, wallpapering this blog, but you can read more about them on their website. I ordered a copy of Entitled, eager to help Shining Stars and also support the Author who was making such a generous pledge.

Entitled by Janelle Scott

 

Shining Stars

I could not put this book down once I started! How often have we been blasé to the homeless on our streets? How often have we pretended not to see them? If we avoid eye contact, we won’t have to engage with them. Children tug on their parent’s arm, to enquire as to why people have no home, and are shushed, then hurriedly moved on. The protagonist in this story is no different. If we create a chasm between them and us, it means that we don’t have to digest the unappetising reality that many of us are only a few pay slips, or a medical disaster away from the streets. We believe that they must have done something to create their situation, or didn’t try hard enough. It brings us peace of mind, that we are somehow masters of our destiny, and they are not.

I read Entitled in one sitting, thrilled that not only had the author nailed what it means to be destitute, but also what it means to be broken down then rebuilt. The people our heroine meets on the street are the truest friends she has ever had. They may well be the only friends she has ever had. I have seen homeless buddies run and fetch hot tea for another with the last of their money, or offer food and a blanket to a newbie. This is unadulterated love, something which Shining Stars has in abundance. Several societal ranks are featured in this book, with fate conspiring to have them meet, and learn from each other.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You can order Entitled from the following:

Booktopia

Janelle Scott’s webpage

To make a donation to Shining Stars, or to find out more, click here.

Rotorua, Sulphur, Mini Golf and Flemish Rabbits!


My daughter and I travelled to Auckland airport from Sydney to attend a wedding in Rotorua. It was our first international flight, so we were excited! We left home at 5am, and got to our lodgings after 8pm. Fortunately, I had prepared my spine -full of arthritis, spondylosis, etc- for this epic adventure, and after a hot shower, crawled into bed.

The trip to Rotorua. This van was in front of us for a few hours.

The next day, I needed a good walk, so we went into Rotorua, and had a marvellous time looking in shops (which are markedly different to ours), and talking to the locals. The cost of living is a lot higher here, which was evident in the price of petrol and food. Over half  the population exist on the minimum wage, and rents are high. I worried about the local people, and how they manage.

My friends were married at the Black Swan Boutique Hotel, a stunning place overlooking Lake Rotorua. Black swans glided by as the vows were exchanged, and the grey skies cleared and sunbeams touched our skin. The bride was absolutely stunning, and I loved how we were invited to hold the rings, placing our love and hopes for the couple into them before they were exchanged. The reception was exquisite, as were our attempts at dancing afterward!

My vegetarian meal!

We left the Black Swan at midnight, collapsing into bed, and woke early the next morning for breakfast with everyone. The bride and groom were glowing and ever so happy. It filled me with joy. We decided to head to the Polynesian Baths to partake of a sulphur spa, naturally heated to 40 degrees. I lost track of time as my body relaxed and I floated with my daughter, and it was only when we went to get dressed that we noted the sign stating that you shouldn’t stay in longer than 15 minutes! Oops! We drank lots of water afterward, to avoid dehydration, and I went to have a nap, my pained spine temporarily eased.

 

As I slumbered in our Airbnb, my daughter uncovered what she called a fairyland, Mini Golf NZ, ironically on Fairy Springs Rd. The manager, Fiona MacGregor was an angel, she said, and I just had to go and see for myself. On the way, we stopped at the local shops for a takeaway dinner, and met many homeless youth. The weather had turned nasty, and a bitter wind whipped through their thin clothing. We gave them some of our NZ money, so they could at least get something to eat. This is the hidden face of any country, concealed behind the tourist attractions and natural beauty. The operators rake in the cash, but the poor see barely a cent.

I was already entranced by the music, bubbles and fairy lighting I could see outside of the mini golf centre, but when I went in, I was captivated! Flemish rabbits bounded up to us for cuddles and pats, and were very involved as we worked our way around the course.

There was also a tame dove and a rainbow lorikeet! I was in heaven! Fiona has been here a long while, and has not only raised her own kids, but looked after many others. She is very aware of how the community is struggling, and organizes canned-food drives and Christmas hampers for organizations like Food Bank to distribute. Fiona is a good woman with a huge heart. There was something very special about her and this place. She was here for love, an essence that shimmered like gossamer around this slight woman.

Fiona and her Rainbow lorikeet

We met a lot of  Maori’s, and they expressed concern about lack of  job opportunities, homelessness, housing affordability and much more. I admire the local community organizations, who have set up linked charities to tackle the major issues. One of the major ingredients has to be a sense of hope; that things can turn around. If that is lost, mental illness creeps in, aided by alcohol and drugs. As long as hope and good people like Fiona abound, communities and their whanau shall prevail. The rest of our trip was spent in quiet contemplation and thankfulness that we had seen our friends marry, and that we had met Fiona. If you are ever in Rotorua, go see her!

The gorgeous bride and I