In October, the Australian Council of Social Services study found child poverty amongst lone parent families has increased in Australia. There are now around 730,000 Australian children living in poverty.
This is what life is like on the other side of that line.
Nikki McWatters had a normal (no better word for it) upbringing. She grew up in Brisbane. The daughter of teachers. Middle-class. Went to a private school. Did well in her exams.
Then, between 17 and 25, a series of events – each as unpredictable as the next – saw Nikki go from living a ‘normal’ life, to living below the poverty line, raising three children on her own.
She depended on welfare payments and the money from any work she could find – cleaning, ironing, cleaning toilets – to scramble through the demands of every day life. Sending her kids to school. Putting food on the table. Providing shelter.
At one point, Nikki lived in a tent. Other times she couch surfed with her kids, crashing on friends’ sofas. Sleeping in strange, lonely living rooms.
Nikki and her children lived in abject poverty for 12 years.
“I moved to Sydney after finishing school. I got married fairly young and started a family. Everything, for a while was happy. You never expect things to go wrong,” she told me.
“When my marriage broke down very suddenly, I found myself as a single mother with no employment. My husband was the one who had been working, while I was at home with small children. What was I going to do? Welfare was not not enough to live on.”
At the time her husband left, Nikki had two children, both boys. A four-year-old and a two-year-old.
Seven years after this, Nikki had a third baby boy with a new partner. Unexpectedly, the man in her life died.
For the second time, Nikki’s future turned into something unrecognisable. She was now a single mother of three, living on welfare and a minimum wage. “The number of toilets I’ve cleaned in my life,” she said.
Listen to Nikki talking on I Don’t Know How She Does It about the time she was waiting in line at the Salvos and saw another school mum dropping off her unwanted gifts:
She mainly worked as a cleaner for families in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. She would work three, sometimes five, different jobs, just to make ends meet. Still, it wasn’t enough. Almost every fortnight, Nikki would take a welfare parcel for the bare essentials.
“I would work in millionaire’s house all day, cleaning a house that was already so clean, and I would come home and not have enough food for the dinner table,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are poor and who are working harder than any other people I know. It’s like running on a treadmill. You’re running so hard but you’re getting nowhere. It’s hard not to give up.”