Unemployed People Are Used To Being Treated Like Trash, But This Silence Is Inexcusable

"This cruel government needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into offering pandemic support for those who need it most"

unemployed Australians

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Welfare recipients are used to being treated like dog shit.

We are used to having our basic needs completely ignored by our two major political parties. For 27 consecutive years, unemployed workers have watched on as both Labor and the LNP deny them any real increase to their income support.

Unemployed and underemployed people used to elites telling us that our poverty and misery either don’t really exist or aren’t that bad. Or that, even though people are stuck on it for years, Jobseeker is only meant to be a temporary payment, and there’s plenty of jobs out there — even, apparently, during pandemic times — if we all simply ‘have a go’. When held to a very basic level of account over their dismal treatment of the poor, none of us will forget former Families Minister Jenny Macklin and former LNP ghoul Julia Banks saying they could live on $40 a day.

During the last few weeks, our political and media elites have taken their antipathy towards the unemployed, underemployed, and recently sacked to dizzying new heights by simply pretending we don’t exist.

Locked Down And Ignored

With lockdowns currently imposed in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, around 1.2 million people who were eligible for the $550 per fortnight COVID supplement last year — including hundreds of thousands of children — have been excluded from the COVID Disaster Payment, because they receive income support. Denying the poorest people in our communities — people who survive on just half the Henderson poverty line — any support during this outbreak (as basic living costs rise and job prospects wane) is clearly disastrous, and should be cause for national outrage.

Coverage of people in poverty — those who most need our attention — is a bad joke.

However, if you’re reading the news or watching the daily pressers, you’ll notice that, apparently, these 1.2 million suffering people and their kids don’t even bear mentioning.

With queues of people now spilling out of Centrelinks across Sydney, the Federal government is continuing its patented ‘see no poverty, hear no poverty’ approach to the pandemic. From the start of this Delta outbreak, Scott Morrison has sent a very clear, familiar signal to those of us who are unemployed or on welfare: you do not deserve the country’s care or attention.

Morrison is aptly enabled by a compliant press gallery who, in every presser I’ve seen this past fortnight (which, sadly, is many) have failed to bring up welfare, JobSeeker, or the need to bring back the original COVID supplement of roughly #80aDay or $550 a week.

Already, coverage of people in poverty — those who need our attention most — is a bad joke. As a media officer with the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, one of my basic jobs was reminding journalists that 1) poor people exist, 2) there are a fuck-load of them, and 3) it’s one of your basic duties to tell their stories and raise their concerns to the powerful. This stuff doesn’t come naturally to a media class who, with the rare exception, have never had to struggle on one of this country’s brutally low social security payments.

Sadly, the aiding and abetting of government neglect of the poor doesn’t end with out-of-touch media hounds. Our Opposition party and union establishment have been afflicted by a similar amnesia when it comes to the nation’s poor.

Two Parties, Neither Helpful

You would think that the 1.7 million people, including disability pensioners and carers, on working age payments currently in lockdown — all of whom have been abandoned by Morrison — would be well and truly on the Labor party’s radar. However, the ALP have, so far, refused to utter a single demand to help any of us.

They happily engage in performative empathy, yet can’t even bring themselves to actually speak to the people whose images they’re posting for clicks.

Even during poverty crises, Anthony Albanese is too scared to utter the dreaded w-word (welfare). Perhaps he worries the hawks in the Murdoch press will catch wind that he cares about the poor and somehow use that against him. Maybe, when you become leader, doctors employed by the ALP establishment surgically remove the part of your brain that remembers poor people exist — your guess is as good as mine.

Rather than making any noise about expanding the Disaster Payment to welfare recipients, or simply raising welfare to livable levels, the most we’re getting from Labor MPs are photos snapped of people lining up at Centrelink, without an accompanying thought or policy idea as to what the party would do to help them. They happily engage in performative empathy, yet can’t even bring themselves to actually speak to the people whose images they’re posting for clicks.

When NSW Labor’s Shadow Minister for Homelessness Rose Jackson posted a photo of a huge line outside Rockdale Centrelink — along with a fucking heartbreak emoji — she simply made a tepid call to bring back JobKeeper. I tried to inform the Shadow Minister that JobKeeper would do very little for many those standing outside for crumbs of income support — the wage subsidy, that further enriched Gerry Harvey, excludes casuals who’ve been employed less than a year.

Jackson told me that she has been advocating for a return of the COVID supplement, so I asked her for evidence of this, which she then promised to provide. It’s been a few days now, and so far, like thousands of poor people in her electorate, I’ve heard nothing from Rose Jackson. As all welfare recipients know, this kind of ghosting by political leaders under the slightest pressure isn’t an outlier — it’s the norm.

Even more disturbing is the fact that unemployed people and welfare recipients have also heard nothing from the ACTU or head union boss Sally McManus. Struggling people have certainly been telling McManus that they’ve been excluded from any pandemic support, but instead of ferociously beating the drum for easily accessible income support above the poverty line, she’s so far only offered her (in)sincerest apologies.

This cruel government needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into offering pandemic support for those who need it most. Instead, the institutions that are meant to stand up for the poor, are seemingly putting all of us in the too-hard basket.

It’s beyond time our media class, and labour establishment, binned their craven cowardice, got off the fucking bench, and declared, at long last, that everyone in a nation as obscenely rich as ours should have the right to food, housing, and decent income support. Whether we happen to be in the middle of a literal fucking pandemic or not.

Jeremy Poxon is an anti-poverty advocate and welfare recipient currently under lockdown.