‘Australia’s welfare system is torture’: The struggle to live on Newstart

Amanda Galvin Myers from Tathra has talked about the struggles of living on Newstart.
Amanda Galvin Myers from Tathra has talked about the struggles of living on Newstart.

A Newstart recipient from Tathra, NSW, has discussed the struggle of living on about $15 a day. 

“I think being in Australia’s welfare system is torture,” Amanda Galvin Myers said.

“It shouldn’t be that way and it doesn’t have to be that way. Australia is a very rich country.”

In May, the results of a survey of 1267 people – one of whom was Ms Galvin Myers – who call on Salvation Army’s services were released.

It found the average Newstart recipient was living on $17 a day after accommodation expenses.

But Ms Galvin Myers said after she pays rent she is left with less than that average to spend on food, petrol, bills and other expenses.

“There’s a whole lot of reasons why people don’t have work or are unable to work and I’m one example of it,” she said.  

“The government doesn’t care about my lifetime of volunteering, it doesn’t care I’ve paid for two university degrees myself, it doesn’t care for the policy work I’ve done and won awards for. It only cares if I can work or not.” 

Several years ago while living in Queanbeyan working for the public service as an energy security analyst, she became unwell and eventually had to resign from her position due to her health. 

In 2016, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While she is now recovering there is the potential for it to become an ongoing medical issue. 

The government doesn’t care about my lifetime of volunteering, it doesn’t care I’ve paid for two university degrees myself, it doesn’t care for the policy work I’ve done and won awards for. It only cares if I can work or not.

Amanda Galvin Myers

But after using up her savings during the wait for her diagnosis she became registered with Newstart, the main income support payment if you are unemployed and looking for work. 

Unable to pay her energy bills, and hearing about the positive qualities of the South East Regional Hospital, she moved to Tathra as it had the cheapest place she could find to rent on the Far South Coast.

Despite the move she still finds it difficult to survive on her Newstart payments, for instance she can only afford a meal a couple of days a week and the rest of the time she only has snacks, such as crackers, cereal or biscuits. 

As part of her requirements for Newstart, every two weeks she has to drive to Bega for appointments with her employment service provider – a return journey that costs about $15 in petrol, the same amount she is expected to live off on the day. 

She has been medically unable to work for several years, but despite that is not eligible for the disability pension – which would be an increase on her current payments – and has been receiving the job seeker allowance. 

Recently, in terms of looking for work, she has been assessed as being disabled so is attending sessions with a disability services employment provider. 

While she needs ongoing support, she is unable to continually access funding from various charities, saying some keep track of what support people ask for and there is a limit.

For instance, once she was denied a $30 food voucher as she was told she was receiving her fortnightly Newstart payment the next day. 

Ms Galvin Myers has lost confidence through her dealings with the government welfare service as well as charities.

“My life has become very isolated,” she said. 

“I can’t participate in most enjoyable things in life. There’s costs involved in petrol, membership fees, or having a coffee with someone.

“I am constantly placed in a passive and powerless position. You always have to ask for help, it’s never offered.

“Sometimes I’m sitting there thinking about how I’m in such a dire, dire position, but then I think there’s people worse off than me.

“I’m lucky I have a car, I have some super funds I can draw on once every 12 months and I don’t have any debt, but not everyone receiving Newstart is in the same position.” 

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