opinion

'Barnaby Joyce, if you think you're struggling to make ends meet, try living on Centrelink.'

Sorry, did I say “live”? I meant survive. Barely.

Recently, Barnaby Joyce said he was struggling to make ends meet, on a $211,000 salary. “It’s not that I’m not getting money; it’s just that it’s spread so thin,” he says. Same, Barnaby. Same.

The former Deputy Prime Minister is living without a dishwasher and only buying a single coffee a day! But if $211K a year means “struggling”, what does less than $14.5K a year look like?

This is the amount I get as a full-time student living away from home to study – that’s right, you get $553.67 a fortnight, even though you have to live away from home to study.

After I pay my rent, bills, transport and (some) medical costs, I’m left with around $9.50 a day for food and other living expenses.

Did I mention I also need prescription glasses to see?

I still consider myself lucky, because I can sometimes save on transport costs by riding my bike. I live close to a weekly market where I can buy fresh produce for reasonable prices. I have a (very) casual job. I am usually well enough to cook for myself.

I get a discount on my medication because I have a low-income health care card. But I live with negative side effects, because the better, more appropriate medication isn’t PBS-covered and would cost me $120 a month (that’s nearly 11 per cent of my monthly income).

I’m putting off getting a painful cyst removed from my foot because it would cost me $489. I’m rationing my last few therapy sessions until I’m in absolute crisis, because I can only get 10 free sessions a year.

This is what surviving on Youth Allowance looks like. It looks like hard “choices”. And no, I don’t mean choosing to go without a dishwasher or an extra coffee a day, I mean choosing between living in chronic pain or having enough food for the week. I don’t have a choice.

Surviving on Youth Allowance means living with mice, holes in the floor, and a barely-working water heating system in a run-down sharehouse with no insulation.

It means not being able to afford the prescribed textbooks I need for my course. This semester, my booklist added up to around $350. It means choosing to go without them and hoping my grades won’t suffer that much. It means at the end of my two weeks of mandatory, full-time unpaid prac I had $16 in my bank account.

It means questioning why I’m even at university when I’ll have a hard time finding stable work after I graduate. It means I have to miss out on unpaid internships and other experiences that might give me a better chance at finding what work there is. It means I can’t even take a break, because once I stop studying, a whole heap of other punitive measures kick in.

Being reliant on Youth Allowance is constantly counting down – both how much money I have left, and how many days until my next payment. It’s watching people I know getting issued false robodebts and hoping they don’t take their own lives. It’s surviving their suicides.

So this is what living on youth allowance payment looks like. We’re not bludging. We’re not taking advantage. We’re barely surviving.

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