explainer

'How COVID-19 changed my mind about welfare.'

I seem to be able to have anything I want – a husband; travel to exotic places; a few good friends; even a reasonably comfortable lifestyle; almost everything anyone could want – except a job. Before this, I used to think welfare was a copout. 

That was until I ended up on it.

Yes, my husband has a good job and others are far worse off. But we are also paying rent, saving for a house and heading towards middle age. While frustratingly, I can't get a job – which would help us save faster– every little bit helps. Sometimes if it weren't for that small extra payment from Centrelink, we'd be saving nothing.

Being on Centrelink payments is not the extra privilege it's often stereotyped as. While I got $300 to $500 a fortnight, now reduced to sometimes, $100 a fortnight, I have friends who are on $100,000 salaries. They own several properties and yet demand more money from employers. That's a luxury I can't afford right at this time. It's a luxury I may never be able to afford. 

For the first time, I've experienced how broken the employment system is. I've gone for countless jobs. I cannot keep count of the number I have applied for. I'm even more dumbfounded by the fact I am completely capable, proactive and multi-skilled, but which seems to make little difference. I am double-degree educated and have tried desperately to avoid being in this situation. I studied journalism, took any job when it failed, studied massage therapy and lost my business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I shudder to think sometimes of the money I could be on if I perhaps studied something else. Then again, I shudder to think how others might feel. 

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The government keeps telling people like me to get skilled up. However, I already am. Now I know the dilemma people face for being proactive but feeling even more disillusionment when they are. I can't keep upskilling and not going somewhere or wondering when I will. A further irony is that I think jobs are plentiful but ageism results in people staying unemployed. You can't blame people entirely, if the system partly contributes to their downfall. It scares me to think I am one of those who have fallen off the radar. Yet only months ago, I was working. How quickly things can change.

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Yet so many sectors are understaffed or under-resourced. The government talks about contact tracers being overloaded; overwhelmed hospitals and suffering aged care facilities. National servicemen and police have only been deployed to quarantine hotels, largely because of miscommunication and lack of training of otherwise, cheap, convenient security staff. I'm even trained in pathogen control. It wouldn't take much to hire someone like me. Then again, the budget calls for limited staff and resources so my innovation pipedream will just have to dissolve. 

I haven't just gone for jobs I like. I've applied for jobs in primary production, cleaning, call centre roles, media support and writing roles, administration, remote work, mystery shopping – only to find the pay didn't equal the distance in petrol; letterbox delivery jobs, for which the work and physical labour, outweighed the pay. I've tried taking any job only to find myself back in the welfare system again. You can't cling onto jobs with low staff retention if they don't want you there. If you don't make the cut or whatever their excuse is, they won't keep you on, especially in times of COVID, where businesses might be struggling. Now I know how hard it is to find employment.

I sometimes wonder if there will be a latent legacy of unemployment, when businesses start to figure their running costs and cull more staff. Or they just can't hire people anymore. It will take a long time for tourism, retail and hospitality sectors to reinvigorate themselves. Not to mention COVID-19’s impact on regional businesses. It might take even longer and be even harder to find jobs. I hope the lifeblood for many isn't taken away too soon.

I had many dreams and aspirations before I got to this point. I wanted to be an actor; a police administrator, a journalist; a business owner. In fact, I even had the audacity to believe I could be famous one day. Amazing the high expectations you have in your youth. That seems plain audacious now. But then again, I have to be grateful. I shudder to think of those who have no fallback option at all; their situation to me, mere cold comfort.

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