Can someone live on Newstart?

This article was revised on 26th July 2019 because there was an error. Mr B had asked a Centrelink person if there was a Travel Allowance for someone on Newstart (unemployment benefits). He was told that there was a Mobility Allowance of $97.90 per fortnight. As it happens, he was misinformed. That Mobility Allowance only applies to a disabled person.

Therefore, the total income is only $701.70 per fortnight. Total expenses are seen to be (on the high end): $764. Therefore, a person on the Newstart Allowance would be short $63 per fortnight, or $31.50 per week. 

Therefore, Mr B recommends that the NewStart Allowance be raised by at least $63 per fortnight.

The revised article:

There are different situations in which a person may become elligible for unemployment benefits. For example:
(A) those who have saved their money and have a financial buffer, and have become unemployed.
(B) those who have not saved their money and have no financial buffer, and have became unemployed.
(C) single parents with children.
(d) parents with children
(e) Other.

This article looks at the position of someone in category (B): “Can a single unemployed person over the age of 22 – without having saved a financial buffer – live a good life and seek work on unemployment benefits?


The current Newstart Allowance benefits are:
(source: Aust govt)

A single person receives $555.70 per fortnight.

Plus rental assistance:

A room in Sydney will always be at least $305.33 a fortnight, so the fortnightly payment from the government will be $137.20.

Plus Energy allowance

Total income for a single person, per fortnight:
$555.70  Newstart allowance
$137.20  Rental assistance
$8.80 energy allowance.

Therefore, $701.70 is the total income received per fortnight by our single person.

The Newstart allowance is to provide a person with a decent standard of living and the support they need in their endeavours to find a job. The taxpayer should not be obliged to fund a Newstart recipient’s:
– take-away food
– restaurant meals
– cigarettes
– alcohol
– recreational drugs
– gambling
– newspapers
– bottled water & soft drinks
– tea & coffee

That’s not the view of some people, though. One grasshopper asked, “Why shouldn’t someone on the Newstart payments be able to go out drinking and have a good time?”
Another grasshopper, when asked why the taxpayer should pay for cigarettes and alcohol, blurted, “Why should people be forced to live in horrendous conditions?”


A person could find on  a room in a shared house in Sydney for $200 per week. However, Kim has poor social skills and no one will live with her. Kim needs to have her own room, so she rents a room in a boarding house and pays $225 per week. Kim is paying $450 rent per fortnight.

Let’s assume Kim lives in an outer suburb and has one job interview a week in Sydney’s CBD. That’s $14.80 a fortnight. Let’s say Kim can’t buy her groceries on the same trip, and she lives a long bus or train trip to the nearest shopping centre. Therefore she has to spend another $20 per fortnight in public transport fares. Total: $34.80

Tax:  $0.  The Newstart allowance is $555.70 per fortnight, or $14,448.20 per year. The tax free threshold is $18,200 a year. Therefore this is no tax to pay. (The rental assistance and energy assistance allowances are tax exempt.)

Gas and electricity.
The socialite Mr B lives alone in a big house. He tells me that using arithmetic and his last four electricity and gas bills, he has determined that per fortnight, his cost of electricity is $28.08 and gas is $19.48.
Total energy costs: $47.56 per fortnight.
(Water? In most instances when someone is paying rent, the water bill is paid by the landlord.)

Telephone and internet:
Internet: all libraries in the Sydney greater area provide free internet access. There an unemployed person can send and receive emails from prospective employers, as well as hunt for jobs. Cost: $0.
Telephone (to speak with prospective employers): $10 per month for a cheap phone plan. That’s $5 per fortnight.

Clothes:  An unemployed person will need smart clothes for job interviews, and quality goods can be found in op shops. (Mr B found a quality suit on his first attempt for $20.) However, if a person presents proof they are on unemployment benefits, they can receive clothes & shoes for free (and presumably, blankets.)
Socks, underpants and singlets need to be bought, let’s say at a generous average cost of $8 per fortnight.

Haircuts:  For job interviews the applicant needs a presentable haircut. A woman told Mr B that generally a friend can cut a basic hair cut. And, there are Youtube videos showing how it can be done. However, this claim will be rubbished, so let’s include the cost of a professional haircut: Men’s haircuts: 8 a year at $12 each. That’s $4 a fortnight. Women’s haircuts:
a) Some hairdressing schools will have their apprentices cut a woman’s hair for $25. However, results aren’t guaranteed.
b) The firm, ‘Just Cuts’ will cut a woman’s hair for $32. At six times per year that’s roughly $240 per year. That’s less than $8 per fortnight. Hair dye, six times per year will cost $10 each time. That’s $60 a year or  just over $2 per fortnight.

$8 + $2 = $10 is the average cost per fortnight Kim will pay. (Men: about $4.)

Most shared houses have washing machines, and most apartment blocks have communal washing machines and driers, that cost $2 per wash and $2 for the dryer. But let’s assume Kim has to use a laundromat to wash and dry her clothes. Twice a fortnightwill cost her $18 per fortnight.

Unnecessary items:
– toothpaste (the brushing cleans your teeth, not the lather). Besides, toothpicks and floss are even more important.
– laundry detergent. It’s the washing machine’s surging water that rids your clothes of sweat, etc., not the detergent. If you have an item with grime on it, hand wash the affected areas first with a bar of soap. Mr B hasn’t used laundry detergent for eight years.
– lipstick, perfume and eye liner.

Cost: $0 per week.

– The chemist informed Mr B that an unemployed person will pay a maximum of $390 per year for prescribed medicines. Let’s say Kim has medical issues and will spend the entire $390 each year. She will be paying on average $15 per fortnight.

Necessary items:
– bars of soap:
– toilet paper   (a handy hint to save money: use both sides)*
– toothpicks or dental floss:
– contraception:
– washing-up liquid:
– Tampons and pads
– other stuff I’ve forgotten.

Total fortnightly cost: Generous estimate:$18

* 🙂

It’s commonly said that people on the Newstart allowance cannot afford fresh food, and are forced to buy take-away food. Here are some examples of the prices of take-away food:

So, a cheap meal can be bought for $5 or $6.

Mr B said anyone suggesting that bought meals are cheaper than fresh food is, at best, mistaken. I asked Mr B to put his money where his mouth is. (He agreed to do so, but first had to remove his foot.) For a week he meticulously recorded the cost of the food he ate, and took photographs for proof. Here we go:

Note: Instead of expensive wine, Mr B uses a cheap wine substitute for most of his meals. Although it’s often included in the photographs, the cost is not included because it’s negligible, and because an unemployed person does not need to purchase alcoholic beverages in order to survive.

Breakfast: Two bowls of cereal, (Freedom’s ‘Buckwheat & Quinoa Active Balance) with oat milk.
Cost: $2.40 for both bowls.

Morning snack: banana.
Cost: 36 cents.

Lunch:  two free-range eggs (91 cents each), tomato, avocado on grain & seed toast.
Cost: $2.48

Dinner: 1/3 rump steak fried with mushrooms & onions, plus three other vegetables.
Cost: $6.41

Total cost for Monday: $11.45


Breakfast: Free range eggs, tomatoes, chilli, on grain & seed bread.
Cost: $2.73

Lunch: Two bananas on grain & seed bread plus one mandarin.
Cost: $1.06

Dinner: 1/3 rump steak with eight vegetables.
Cost: $8.28

Total cost for Tuesday: $12.07


Breakfast: Two bowls of cereal, (Freedom’s ‘Buckwheat & Quinoa Active Balance) with oat milk. Plus apple.
Cost: $2.40 plus:

Lunch: two bananas on grain & seed bread.
Cost: $1.00

Dinner: 1/3 rump steak with eight vegetables.
Cost: $7.42

Total cost for Wednesday: $10.82


Breakfast: Two free-range eggs, two tomatoes, chilli, on grain & seed bread.
Cost: $2.43

Lunch: Avocado on grain & seed bread. Plus one banana.
Cost: $1.10

Dinner: Stir-fry on rice: 1/2 salmon, beans, broccolli, carrot, beetroot, capsicum, mushroom.
Cost: $6.40


Total cost for Thursday: $9.93


Breakfast: Two eggs on grain & seed bread toast with Jarlsburg cheese.
Cost: $2.78

Lunch: Salad with canned tuna, lettuce, capsicum, tomato, garlic & dressing
Cost: $5.34


Dinner: Stir-fry on rice: 1/2 salmon, beans, broccolli, carrot, beetroot, capsicum, mushroom.
Cost: $6.40


Total cost for Friday: $14.52


Breakfast: Apple, plus Two bowls of cereal, (Freedom’s ‘Buckwheat & Quinoa Active Balance) with oat milk.
Cost: $2.80 for both bowls.

Lunch: Toasted turkish bread sandwich with margarine, tomato, onion, Jarlsburg cheese, an egg, chilli, avocado & lettuce.
Cost: $3.53


Dinner: Borscht. (gravybeef, beetroot, celery,
Cost: $3.87


Total cost for Saturday: $10.20


Breakfast: Toasted turkish bread sandwich with margarine, tomato, onion, Jarlsburg cheese, an egg, chilli, avocado & lettuce.
Cost: $3.53


Morning snack: 3 mandarins
Cost: 54 cents

Lunch: Toasted turkish bread sandwich with margarine, tomato, onion, Jarlsburg cheese, an egg, chilli, avocado & lettuce.
Cost: $3.53


Dinner: Canned pilchards with tomatoes, onion & garlic on rice.
Cost: $2.24


Total cost for Sunday: $9.84

Monday:        11.45
Tuesday:        12.07
Wednesday:   10.82
Thursday:         9.93
Friday:             14.52
Saturday:        10.20
Sunday:             9.84

Total food expenses for one week: $78.83   Therefore: per fortnight: $157.66

450.00  rent
34.80  travel
47.56  gas & electricity
5.00 phone
8.00 clothes
10.00 haircuts
18.00 laundromat
15.00  medicines
18.00 other
157.66 food
Total expenses: $764.02

Given that the total income is $701.70,and that total expenses are $764.02 that means the unemployed Kim is short $62.32 per fortnight, or $31.16 per week. Of course, in most cases those expenses assumed the highest costs possible. For example, if Kim didn’t have poor social skills and her many health problems she would be paying $400 per fortnight instead of $450, and $5 per fortnight for medicines instead of $15. However, the Newstart Allowance should cater for people like Kim, which means the current Newstart Allowance for a single person 22 years or over is not adequate and should be raised by at least $63.

How about for a single parent? For a couple? I don’t know.


6 thoughts on “Can someone live on Newstart?

  1. Mr B is also missing tax, off-the-shelf medicines, other expenses as they arise, the cost of the phone separate to the phone plan, etc — and is still short ~$10/fortnight.

    More broadly, you expect the disadvantaged to act without a single misstep — no alcohol, no short-term loan to cover an unexpected expense, no cigarettes, no impulse purchases, no birthday or Christmas presents for friends and family, no missteps or mistakes. The most privileged people in the world don’t show that kind of discipline.

    And since the purpose of Newstart is to get people back into work, where is the financial breathing room to — for example — buy a car so they can get jobs that require private transport, or take vocational courses to reskill, or buy a PC for online job-work? None of that is possible when you’re going $10 in debt every fortnight (plus the annual $468 in taxes that you didn’t account for).

    You’ve started from a false premise — that Newstart is at an acceptable level if it can sustain a person’s bodily needs (and you incorrectly defined this as “decent standard of living”) — and not even satisfied that test.

    • As it happens, you’re right and you’re wrong. When I initially rang Centrelink to confirm the figures I was told there was a travel allowance for people on Newstart. It was called the Mobility Allowance. However, the person didn’t tell me it was for disabled people only. I have just found out. I have had to change the post and I now declare that the Newstart Allowance needs to be raised by at least $63. 

      So, you were right, because someone cannot live on the current figure Newstart provides.
 You were also wrong, about the tax. Even going by the figures I originally provided, no tax would be payable because all the allowances except for the Newstart allowance were tax exempt. Newstart itself doesn’t meet the tax threshold.

      The shelf medicines? Covered in the ‘other’ cost.

      Cost of the phone? Nearly everyone already has a phone when they become unemployed, but assuming Kim doesn’t, she can buy a mobile phone from KMart for $39. That’s an average of $1.60 per fortnight. Negligible. 

      You think it’s okay for the taxpayer to pay for someones alcohol, cigarettes, and presents. I don’t. Let’s agree to disagree.

      The most privileged people in the world? That’s anyone living in Australia unless they are living in remote areas. We have at the flick of a switch electricity and gas, and with the turn of a tap we have fresh running water. That’s a privilege. Most people in the world aren’t that lucky. I’m disappointed to find so many times that people don’t appreciate how fortunate we all are. Someone had all those utilities, had a warm bed and a roof, a phone, food, but said they were living in “horrendous” conditions. 

      And yes, I do expect the disadvantaged to act with discipline. Naturally, many people won’t. I’m now suggesting we raise the Newstart allowance because it isn’t enough, but you seem to be suggesting that even if it wasn’t enough, we should raise it even further because some people lack discipline. Again, let’s agree to disagree.

      You want the Newstart allowance to be enough for someone to be able to buy a car? You would give hundreds of thousands of people extra money simply because just a few of them will require their own car for the job they get? That’s economic madness. Besides, the ones who do need their own car would mostly be the tradies, and most tradies would already have their own van. If they don’t own their own van they can find work with a company that won’t require them to have their own van.
      Vocational courses? TAFE offers some free courses. But I’m sure there are also courses that cost. I suggest that instead of raising the amount of Newstart for just a few who would want that education, we instead make those vocational courses free. All education should be free.

      In short, I was wrong about Newstart. It does need to be raised. But I’m disappointed that people think it’s their right to have their cigarettes and alcohol, and that other people should be paying for them.

  2. Thank you for correcting the post – and my mistake re the energy and rental allowances’ tax deductibility.

    I’ve been thinking about this, and about our last debate about whether there is enough housing for the homeless. I think both disagreements show there’s a fundamental philosophical difference here between idealism and realism.

    You seem to think that the state’s obligation is to provide enough money for an ideal unemployed person; I think the state’s obligation is to observe and meet the needs of actual unemployed people. This parallels the homelessness discussion, where you set the limits of the state’s obligation at nominally providing housing, rather than ensuring that the housing was fit for purpose (e.g. catering to pets).

    Now, I think realism is clearly the better approach here than idealism and, if one were to be an idealist, then there are better ideals to have. But either way, the broader philosophical disagreement explains the specific points of argument:

    When I said the privileged don’t show the discipline that you expect from the unemployed, you responded that the unemployed are also privileged. They should – ideally – be grateful for their lot. But my point was not about who is privileged, but what – in reality – we can expect from people. Since no class of people, however privileged, shows the discipline you expect from the unemployed, it is not realistic to expect that kind of discipline from the unemployed.

    A similar clash between ideals and pragmatism comes from the debate over a buffer for finding work. Pragmatically, it makes sense to spend a bit of extra money to help people find work; after all, Newstart is technically a jobseeker benefit not an unemployment benefit. But you prioritise the ideal of having no taxpayer money spent on alcohol or cigarettes – and the ideal job that requires no car or additional education – over the practicality of getting people working.

    At its most extreme, you argue that since we ideally should have free education for everyone, we shouldn’t have higher Newstart to cover educational costs that, in reality, exist.

    I think it is this clash of idealism and realism that needs to be resolved if we are to agree. It doesn’t necessarily require you giving up idealism or me giving up realism; maybe you can be convinced to prioritise a different ideal, e.g. an egalitarian society or one in which the unemployed are prioritised over wealthy superannuants and recipients of franking credits. Alternatively, maybe I can be convinced on pragmatic grounds that we don’t need to raise Newstart.

    Either way, neither of us has been talking the other’s language — although I do have a few notes and questions on other points:

    * How does losing the $97/fortnight mobility allowance result in a recommendation that Newstart is raised $63/fortnight, when your expenses calculation already exceeded income by $10/fortnight in the unrevised version?

    * What about furniture, removalists, lawn mowers, drills, repairs, vacuum cleaners, branded work uniforms (not available from op shops), etc? Do these join off-the-shelf medicines in the $9/week “Other” category? It is looking awfully stretched.

    * Most people in the world do have access to electricity and running water. Perhaps Australians below the poverty line are not as globally privileged as you think.

    • Thank you for your response and for your diplomacy. 

      I also believe that the state’s obligation is to “observe and meet the needs of actual unemployed people.”

      Let’s put it another way: if we were to ensure the Newstart Allowance included money to cover every possibility: a room in a boarding house ($450 per fortnight), enough money to either (a) cover the cost a return journey on public transport every day for the person to attend job interviews, or to (b) cover the cost of maintaining a car, that would be $100 per fortnight, and if we assume that the person uses the entire $390 for medical expenses, and uses the entire laundry allowance, etc. etc. plus, as you suggest, it also included the cost of furniture, removalists, lawn mowers, drills, repairs, vacuum clearners . . . the person would be receiving an enormous amount from the taxpayer. And very few of the recipients would actually need all those things. If they already had furniture, they’d still be receiving money to pay for furniture. I guess they can then spend that surplus on alcohol or bottle water. Or, I guess they could send the money back to Centrelink saying, “I don’t need this amount because I don’t have a lawn to mow and I already have my own furniture.” How likely is that? In short, you want the Newstart Allowance to be the maximum amount to cover all contingencies, even though in most cases not all of those contingencies would apply to each recipient. 

      Uniforms? For a job they don’t have?

      And why should the taxpayer be paying to have a lawn mown? And if they’re in a boarding house, whose lawn is being mown? Or if they’re in their own home and have their own lawn, why did I include $450 per fortnight in rent as one of the costs?

      Simply, an amount has to be determined by the government and I claim it should not cover every contingency because hardly anywone would need every contingency covered, and it would break the economy. And besides, if the allowance did cover every contingency, there would be many, many people who would choose to not work and live on Newstart. The idea of Newstart is not to give the unemployed person a lifestyle similar to that of an employed person, it’s to feed them, keep them warm and dry, and enable them to find a job. You think that’s an ‘ideal’. I think giving people enough money to cover every contingency is idealistic.

      That said, there would be a few people who would need money for every contingency. There are special payments that can be given by Centrelink for severe hardship, and each case is decided on its merit.

      There is something called ‘habituation’. You probably know of it. If a wealthy person is used to flying business class, but is forced to fly in ‘economy’, they suffer, because they’re used to business class. Nor can they cope with a cheap bottle of wine, or cheap accommodation. Nor could they appreciate driving the thirty year-old Mazda I used to drive, because they would be habituated to driving in luxury. On the SBS program recently the host examined cases in which people were struggling on their income. Once couple said their quarterly power bill was $1,500, and they were struggling. They acknowledged they had a heated swimming pool, but didn’t see the absurdity of their complaint. My point is: it is very easy to become habituated to a lifestyle and feel it is a catastrophe when their expectations are not met. People complain that their Newstart allowance should let them be able to afford alcohol, or mow their lawn!, not realising they have been habituated to a lifestyle that they have come to see is a right, not a privilege. 

      You write, “Since no class of people, however privileged, shows the discipline you expect from the unemployed, it is not realistic to expect that kind of discipline from the unemployed.” That discipline was not only expected from people in the early 1900s, it was normal, especially during the depression. Life was a lot, lot harsher. And further back. 100+ years ago, even the wealthy didn’t have a lifestyle nearly as good as a poor person living in Australia today. A poor person today lives better than any king of England ever has. Plus, peasants who live in Outer Mongolia today have a much poorer standard of living than anyone on Newstart. But there is no evidence to suggest that those people were/are less happy (the Great Depression is an exception) than we of today. It’s relative. Someone today thinks they’re terribly poor if they can’t afford a television set. Ho hum. 

      Up until ten years ago I spent five weeks every year in a log cabin with no running water, no electricity, no phone, no gas, no refrigeration, no lighting (except candles), no computer. My grandfather lived that way for five years, by choice. Admittedly, I lived that way by choice, and I was not looking for a job, and I’m not suggesting that anyone on Newstart should live like that, but I did make sure I did not become habituted to a comfortable lifestyle, and it did give me the confidence to know that if I had to live that way permanently, I could. I certainly didn’t develop the idea that I had a right to a comfortable lifestyle, and that the taxpayer should supply it for me. You seem to think that if the Newstart allowance doesn’t make a person’s life a comfortable, enjoyable, easy one, covering every contengency, then human rights are being infringed. I disagree. 

      I am wondering if you have never had to struggle, and the thought of doing so daunts you, and as a result you have developed an understandable empathy for those who would be in that scary situation? I don’t know. I don’t know what your early life was like in Canberra, but the thought occurs to me.

      You say the Newstart Allowance is to help people find jobs. I covered that in my article. I explained that people can still look for jobs on the Newstart allowance.

      You write, “At its most extreme, you argue that since we ideally should have free education for everyone, we shouldn’t have higher Newstart to cover educational costs that, in reality, exist.” I can’t see a problem with that. We either make education free or we increase Newstart to cover educational costs. I want the former, you want the latter. Again, let’s agree to disagree.

      You write, “maybe you can be convinced to prioritise a different ideal, e.g. an egalitarian society or one in which the unemployed are prioritised over wealthy superannuants and recipients of franking credits.”
 I don’t need to be convinced. I already believe it. We do desperately need a more egalitarian society, but you seem to be more interested in the bandaid approach of compensating the unemployed. Let’s again agree to disagree. 

      Besides, my example didn’t include someone looking to be educated AND looking for work. If it had I would have also examined Austudy and the free TAFE courses and what HECS has to offer.

      By the way, I did suggest that we raise the allowance, by $63. We both agree it should be raised; we differ in how much and on the reasons.

      To answer your three questions:
1. I fiddled the books. In my first attempt I was very generous and allowed all contingencies, (including atalantic salmon and Jarlsburg cheese) while still being only $10 short. When I found that Mobility Allowance didn’t apply, I was forced to be not so lax and generous. But I was still fair.

2. I believe I have covered the question about mowing lawns, repairs, etc. ie. If someone owns their own home then they’re already saving $313 a fortnight (rent of $450 minus $137 rental allowance) They can pay for their lawmower, etc. out of that money.

3. I was wrong. I was flippant. I should have googled it. You’re right, most people do have electricity and running water. However, that fact doesn’t change my view that people nowadays are habituated to a comfortable lifestyle, and become frightened, incapable and outraged when they are placed in circumstances that don’t match the standards to which they have become accustomed.

      Again, thank you for your response.

 Mr B.

      • Thanks for your response and further details.

        I didn’t say that the Newstart allowance should be “the maximum amount to cover all contingencies”. I showed that the calculations do not account for contingencies; that’s a fatal flaw in any budget. As with any other budget, Newstart can be raised to be enough to cover any contingency without having to cover all contingencies.

        The initial calculations were $10 short, and missed the $97 mobility allowance, as well as $2 for a phone. That sums to $109/fortnight. Your model produces a result closer to the $150/fortnight Newstart increase that ACOSS proposes than the $63 increase you now propose.

        Money for uniforms is so people can begin working. Renters are still expected to maintain a garden if the property has one. Worse — Newstart is not enough to allow many people to eat or heat.

        With regards to discipline: people in the Great Depression, Victorian England, 19th Century China or any other period routinely spent money they couldn’t afford on things they “didn’t need”, because of addiction, desperation, untreated mental illness, pain relief, poor impulse control, confusion over risk and probability, naivety, and so on. Alcohol, opium, cocaine, tobacco, gambling and even tea are examples. Historical research shows that early modern English spent money on tea they didn’t need even at the expense of nutrition and calories that they needed.

        Then, as now, moralists criticised humans for having human failings, instead of addressing the structural problems.

        The current evidence is that happiness does increase with income – up to a point well above Newstart. Did happiness behave differently in pre-capitalist societies? Perhaps – but we’re making policy decisions under capitalism.

        A yearly five-week camping trip is a luxury. Those receiving Newstart in remote areas, under the CDP, have “mutual obligation” requirements that wouldn’t even permit them to take such a trip if it were all expenses paid. Asceticism — which has always been most popular among the well-off, whether it’s Thoreau, the Buddha or the modern minimalists — has nothing in common with poverty.

        William G

        • Thank you for responding! Much appreciated.

          So what you seem to be saying is that each person receiving Newstart should receive an amount of money that would (1) allow them to survive without too much hardship and search for a job, plus
(2) an amount to cover a contengency. 

          I hope I have understood you correctly.

With regards to (1) we agree on that, but disagree with what should be included. (eg. alcohol vs no alcohol). Fair enough.

          With regards to (2) the trouble with that is that if the government (taxpayer) gives every Newstart an extra $X to cover a contingency, then hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t have a contingency, will be receiving money unnecessarily. How about instead we have Centrelink providing applicants with a ‘contingency allowance’? That way, only those who need it, get it. Or, the bill goes directly to Centrelink? (Or would the paper shuffling be too expensive?) (Note: Centrelink already provides a special hardship allowance for people in dire straits.) 

          You question my change of calculations. As explained in my last missive to you, my initial (but incorrect) figures on the income led me to give the receipient the worst of each scenario (eg. my example, Kim, had poor social skills and had to go to a boarding house; she had to spend the entire $390 on medicines, and had to attend long distance job interviews every day, for example. I also had her eating expensive fish and cheeses . . . So, when I no longer had the mobility allowance to work with I simply made the expenses more realistic. 

          That said, there would be a few people who do indeed have all those expenses. Again, rather than paying everyone an extra amount to avoid the few who do ‘slip through the cracks’, how about we have a more flexible Centrelink? They already provided different amounts for different circumstances (A single mum gets a different amount to Kim, for example.)


By the way, have you tried to ring Centrelink? I did, to confirm some facts. The automated switchboard readily hangs up on people who want to speak to a human being (most times). They ask if you want to speak with a human being, (not phrased that way), and when you press the button to get one they say, ‘Thank you. Goodbye’ and hang up. Disgraceful. That said, the recorded messages tell us to speak civilly to the staff, which suggests that many people abuse the staff. That’s disgraceful too.


Money for uniforms so they can begin working? What, the company isn’t providing the uniform? They’re asking an unemployed person to pay for the uniform? Outrageous. Well, for a start, it means the person has a job, so pretty soon they could pay for it out of their early wages. How often would someone have to say, “Thank you for the job offer but I can’t accept it because I can’t afford the uniform that I would have to wear to work.” ?

          “Renters are still expected to maintain a garden if the property has one.”
Hang on. I was talking about one young person over the age of 22. If Kim happens to live in a shared house, with a garden to maintain, then Kim is only paying $400 a fortnight instead of the figure I used for the boarding house, $450. She has an extra $50 to spend. Even then, the expenses in a shared house are divided. Even then, it’s the landlord who supplies the secateurs, hedge clippers, lawn mower and fertilzers. Some families renting houses might have to pay for all that, but that’s rare, and that assumes they’re employed, or have been. My figures were based on one unemployed person who has no money saved up. Big difference in accommodation and expectations.


”Newstart is not enough to allow people to eat and heat.” My article explained that’s not true. I included energy costs (which include the heater) and I included meals. Indeed, the very reason I wrote the article is because people were claiming that the allowance is “not enough to let someone buy fresh food”. I thought that was disingenuous, because fresh food is cheaper than take-away food. (Eg. Some steak and eight veges cost less than $7.) The claim seemed to be a copout. And, fresh food is better, of course. That lie about not being able to afford fresh food prompted me to look into other claims about Newstart. And when someone at Speakers’ Corner seriously said they should be able to go out and have a good time drinking alcohol on the Allowance, I wrote the article.


I read the PDF. It’s about people not being able to afford food. Holy moly. I might have respected the article much more had it explained what they DID spend their money on. When some people have other more important gratifications to indulge in, then food gets left behind. They can’t eat but they still have their Foxtel? If people have poor money management skills, should we simply be saying, “Oh well, let’s give them more money,” (in which case, they might blow that as well and still be unable to afford proper food)? Or should we let them go to soup kitchens to get a feed? I think you and I disagree there too, because you believe we shouldn’t expect strong discipline from people, whereas I say we have to draw boundaries. Besides, they might develop the skills with a bit of hardship. That’s what happens when you experience hardship. Don’t forget, no one in Australia has to starve to death or not have a bed to sleep in (unless they’re mentally ill and can’t make sound decisions). We had a homeless person speak at Speakers’ Corner who said something similar.


Yes, in the old days there were people who wasted money (on tea? Interesting) My point is that in the old days people also learned how to manage money. The point being: there are two factors at play: we need to give people money, and they need to manage it. To excuse them because they’re undisciplined doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard. Not in Australia. If they were in danger of freezing or starving to death in another country, then I’d change my mind.

          I am disappointed that most schools don’t teach kids how to cook, or give them money management skills.

          You write, “Then, as now, moralists criticised humans for having human failings, instead of addressing the structural problems.”

          I’m a moralist, am I? I’m all for addressing structural problems. I’d much rather that than provide bandaid solutions like, “Just give them more money”. How about:

          – Double the Medicare levy to help support the mentally ill
- ban all alcohol, lawyer and gambling advertising

          – Big fines for wage theft

          – pay teachers much more, to increase the status and enourage smart people to choose that profession
- crackdown on tax havens
- more corporate transparency, and other corporate reforms.
          – big penalties for wage theft
- maintain penalty rates. Increase them in some instances.
- business must pay other businesses within a week, or suffer a sanction.
- ban free trade (to encourage our industries)
- provide free education
- teach life skills in school as mentioned above

          – split society into two. (two 3.5 day weeks). That would increase productivity, reduce working ours and create employment.
- raise the legal age to sell cigarettes by one year, every year. That way, no current smoker is disadvantaged, and the corporations and governments can get used to the dwindling profits & taxes over time
- significantly change the pension system
- decentralise
- wean us off poker machines

          – wean us off all gambling

          – aim to minimise wealth disparity


I’d rather focus on changing the structure than just fling more money at people who spend it on whatever they spend it on, and then have no food to eat!

          You write, ‘The current evidence is that happiness does increase with income – up to a point well above Newstart.’
 From the studies I have seen, provided you’re well fed, warm and have the basics, you will be happy as anyone unless they’re particularly wealthy. Of course, if they have financial stress they won’t be happy. But if the financial stress is self-inflicted (repairing your lawn mower & buying alcohol, and perhaps having Foxtel) then yes, there will be financial stress and unhappiness.


Again I say, there have been countless people in Australia who have had good lives with a standard of living below that of someone on the Newstart Allowance. To blame the lack of money for a person’s stress is to ignore all the other factors really creating the stress. That’s why we need to change structural problems, not fix problems with bandaids.


Have you seen how the Hadza people live?

          You write, “Did happiness behave differently in pre-capitalist societies? Perhaps – but we’re making policy decisions under capitalism.’ I’m not comparing capitalism with anything, I’m comparing standards of living. That’s what money provides: a standard of living. An Australian’s standard of living is higher than that of other countries of this year and yesteryear. To include capitalism (or communism, socialism) is to muddy the waters.


You write, “Those receiving Newstart in remote areas, under the CDP, have “mutual obligation” requirements that wouldn’t even permit them to take such a trip if it were all expenses paid.”
 I don’t know what the CDP is (I assume it’s not the Christian Democratic Party) but I accept the claim. I’m guessing that those receiving Newstart are required to search for jobs daily (or something) and if they don’t, they lose the allowance. So, that would mean that they would be unable to go on a five-week camping trip. Well, yes! Are you suggesting that someone who is unemployed should be able to stop looking for work and go on a holiday, and still receive the allowance? If so, that’s unacceptable to me. Or have I misunderstood your point?

          To bring asceticism into the discussion is also muddying the waters. It has nothing to do with this discussion.

          Cheers, and thanks again for your comments.

          Mr B.

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