‘Raising Children and Living on Newstart’

By Kat Lee, AUWU Member

My name is Kat Lee, I am 56 and have been on Centrelink payments since 1996 when my marriage broke down. I had been married for 17yrs, and during that time had given birth to 4 children.

At the time of my marriage breakdown, we were running our own business and also paying off our own home. Due to the breakdown of my marriage, I lost my home and also my business, and was left to raise 4 children alone. At this stage, I was also pregnant with our 5th child, because of this, I was unable to gain employment and I was also unable to process the fact that my world had fallen apart.

I went to Centrelink and was granted Parenting Payment Single, I went on and raised my children, and gave birth to my son. My children adjusted to living with just their mother around, and grew into wonderful young people.
Time passed, my youngest child began to show signs of health problems, he had been found to be vision impaired at the age of 3, and required regular eye checks and to wear glasses at all times. Once he started school, he began showing signs of anxiety, he could not settle in class unless I was there, and for the first 5yrs of his school life I found myself needing to be there in his class so as he could be at school and learn.

I volunteered at his school for 5yrs, doing such things as listening to children read, helping teachers with printing and computer work, doing art work for assemblies and special occasions, such as Easter and Christmas shows, photography for the school and also going on excursions when there was a lack of adults to go. I was also part of many school committees and had my police clearance to be involved in all of the above.

My son ended up being diagnosed with Depression, as well as Anxiety and also mild ADHD and full blown ODD. Because of this, when the legislation came in that you needed to start looking for work once your child turned 7, I was exempted due to my son’s health problems. Even though I was exempt, I still tried to find work, and though that it would be a good idea to use my volunteer experience to approach my son’s school and see if I could get a position as an SSO. Although the school thought this was a good idea, and that I had the experience required, they denied my application, because it then meant they would need to pay me for what they had up until then been getting for free.

It was at this stage that I moved areas, and therefore moved my son to a new school. I was unable to volunteer at this school, and therefore decided to look into further study to give myself a better chance at gaining employment as my son grew older (he was now 12 and about to finish primary school and enter high school). The legislation had also changed, and I was no longer exempt from looking for work and thus had to register with an employment agency or better known as JSA. I did this and through the JSA enrolled at TAFE in a program called Women’s Education. It was during this time that yet again legislation changed and at the end of 2012 I was taken off Parenting Payment Single and placed on Newstart. This change had a huge impact on my situation, I lost $260p/f and found day to day life extremely difficult. I could no longer afford my rent, food, utility bills, clothes, medical costs, glasses for my son, public transport costs (I do not drive), and I became extremely stressed. My study suffered, my dreams of a better future went out the window. My plans fell apart and I had no choice but to go into survival mode.

I had to give up my rental property (I had been in the same place for 5yrs) and go into share accommodation. This did not go well, my son suffered, both physically and mentally, and so did I. After 6mths of sharing, things went downhill and after an attack on my son (by the fellow housemates son), we had no choice but to leave the accommodation (on police advice).
After a couple of months of living with one of my older children (me sleeping on the lounge), I was able to secure a property. It is a modest 2br place, and costs me $250 a week in rent. This as you can guess is extremely hard. I am left with very little for anything else after paying rent. Rent more or less takes all of my Newstart, which leaves me with family payment of just over $400 per fortnight to cover everything else. My health has suffered greatly, I do not sleep, and rarely eat (so as my son can have a decent diet), I am extremely stressed and am constantly still expected to jump through all the usual hoops associated with being on Newstart.

I have just recently been told by my JSA that I need to find volunteer work of 15hrs a week, or be studying or working to be meeting my requirements for payment. I am in constant fear of being cut off of my payments, as there is no work, I can not afford to study, and if I volunteer, I can not afford to travel.

I have been giving my time to running such things as March Australia in Adelaide SA, and have also offered my time to your union as well. I attended your initial meeting, and hope that I am able to offer you more as time goes by.

Thank you for giving me the time to tell you my story.”