Once her rent and bills are paid, this woman is left with just $45/wk for everything else.






Could you live on $35 a day? That’s $35 dollars for everything. All your expenses. Rent. Bills. Food. Transport. Clothing. Your kids’ clothing. Toiletries. Your kids’ toiletries.

That’s how much Barbara, a single mother, is currently living on. She has been unemployed for two months, because of a painful bone condition that meant she had to give up her job working as patient carer at a children’s hospital.

Her medicine costs around $40 a month after subsidies. Once her rent and utilities are taken out, she is left with around $45 a week to pay for everything else.

Under the Federal Government’s Newstart allowance, the $35 a day is how much single unemployed people in Australia are entitled to.

ABC’s Four Corners ran a story on Monday night, in which they spoke to welfare agencies and individuals surviving on the Newstart payments.

This year, more than 63,000 single parents were moved onto Newstart from their previous government payments – which meant that their payments dropped by up to $65 per week. For single parents especially, the change to the Newstart payments has had a devastating effect on their finances – and their ability to lead a normal life.

Australia’s economy is certainly not all doom and gloom, and our unemployment rate is currently the envy of the world: unemployment is at 5.4%, which is about half that seen in most of Europe. But that still means that 5.4% of the population doesn’t have a steady job, or a regular income. 5.4% of the population doesn’t have the money to look after themselves – or their families.

Barbara, from ABC’s Four Corners program aired on 1 July 2013.

During the program, we see Barbara being offered a $60 supermarket gift voucher from a welfare centre – an offer which makes her very emotional. Soon, the audience sees why this gesture meant so much to her.

For Barbara, things like toiletries and toilet paper are almost luxuries – and can be difficult to afford when there are more immediate concerns, such as buying food.

The extra assistance the gift voucher provides allows Barbara to buy the essentials for the next fortnight for her family – as well as buying deodorant and body spray for her daughter. She sees these as a special treat.

Forget asking whether you could live on $35 a day. Try asking yourself how you would feel if you usually could not afford to buy your teenage daughter a can of deodorant.

Barbara is working hard to improve her situation, and is trying to be pragmatic about her current circumstances. She says, “in the meantime I just have to accept that this is the situation I’m in and do the best I can with what I’ve got, and the help through the Spier Centre and places like that. If it wasn’t for them then I, I really truly would be stuck. Um, I had a lot of support and help from my family and friends, and without them I, I really don’t know how I would a managed, so that’s how I survive.”


The Spiers Centre, which Barbara visits, has been providing invaluable help to Barbara and others in similar situations. Tina Bennett from the Spiers Centre told Four Corners that Barbara’s situation was indicative of many of the clients that they see: people who had been holding it together on low-wage jobs, but encounter a setback that causes their paycheck-to-paycheck system to crumble.

Many people on low incomes are not in the position to build up savings in case of an emergency, and so illness or unexpected unemployment can have a devastating effect.

Amy from ABC’s Four Corners, aired in 1 July 2013, washing her dishes in the bathroom sink.

Bennett says that, “It only takes something like sickness or unemployment, something unforeseen, because clients are on low incomes to start with, they’re not able to build up savings. They don’t have the resilience to plan ahead. Sometimes even insurance is an extra cost that they’re not able to afford.”

Barbara’s story in not unique. Throughout the program, the audience is introduced to many Australians in similar circumstances.

There is 37-year-old Amy, who has a 15-year-old daughter. She became homeless for the first time this year, before finding temporary accommodation through the Salvation Army. Her accommodation is one bedroom and a bathroom – and she has to wash her dishes in the bathroom sink, next to the toilet.


And there is Coralee, a 42-year-old single mother to two – who lost her husband eight years ago to a motor neuron disease, and suffers from anxiety as well as a range of other health issues.

Coralee from ABC’s Four Corners program, which aired on 1 July 2013. She suffers from anxiety.

These are just three personal stories of unemployed women who are struggling to get by, and find stable work.

Earlier this year, Minister Jenny Macklin casued controversy when she said that she would be able to survive on $35 per day. After her comments, Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt took up the challenge, to find out how hard it really was.

Ultimately, Bandt said he couldn’t do it.

He committed to a diet that would cost only $7 per day, but found that rent and transport costs consumed most of the $246 – and he was $80 over the limit by the end of only one week.

In an interview with 3AW Bandt said that he “skipped meals at one point and even went to a charity kitchen as a last resort.”

He further said that, “I don’t think people should expect the level of the dole should be that of even a minimum-wage job, but the government should be there if you fall on hard times … What we’re finding though is the dole is strangling people because it’s impossible to get by without going further into debt.”

You can watch the full report from Four Corners here.

Could you live on $35 a day?