'$2.11 to buy groceries': Wollongong mum calls for permanent welfare increase

"I thrive when I work, I love working. Yet as a casual events bartender you are never guaranteed work."
"I thrive when I work, I love working. Yet as a casual events bartender you are never guaranteed work."

An single mother has appealed for the recent boost to fortnightly welfare payments to become permanent, or says many will continue to live on "Struggle Street".

"I understand that people aren't meant to live off government payments for extended periods of time, but we're barely 'living' as it is," Sarah* said. "Struggling to do normal things with your children isn't living."

In March, it was announced that jobseekers will get a $550 boost to their fortnightly welfare payments for six months, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was claimed about one million people receive payments that will make a person eligible for the extra $550 a fortnight: JobSeeker payment, Youth Allowance (Jobseeker), parenting payments, the farm household allowance and special benefit.

Wollongong mother Sarah, 31, works as a casual in the hospitality industry, but the pandemic meant she lost all of her work.

To consider there are single parents with little to no external family network to help with childcare struggling to find work... We aren't all lazy dole-bludgers.

She had been receiving $627.70 a fortnight from JobSeeker prior to also getting the supplement.

She also receives $420.14 a fortnight from the Family Assistance Payment.

"If I hadn't got the extra $550 last week after paying rent and bills I would have had $2.11 to buy groceries," she said.

"I was already behind over $600 in bills from not getting any casual work because of bar/festival work being shut down, so I am struggling.

"I'm not a greedy person, and I try to budget the best I can but as it stands this week I will get $420.14. Of that, $200 goes on rent and at least $130 on groceries. Then that will leave me with essentially $10 a day to live off.

CALLS FOR AN INCREASE: Single mother Sarah, 31, works as a casual, but has had no employment since the pandemic hit. Picture: Adam McLean

CALLS FOR AN INCREASE: Single mother Sarah, 31, works as a casual, but has had no employment since the pandemic hit. Picture: Adam McLean

"Next week I'll get $1177.70 and while yes, it sounds and looks like a lot of money, (it's not) after paying out another $330 on rent, $250 electricity, $120 Optus in arrears, $120 Telstra in arrears, $50 Foxtel, and $90 Afterpay orders for clothes for my son and I because I couldn't afford buy them outright.

"That's about $960 or thereabouts already out on bills just to be able to live and have clothes on our backs before groceries have even been done."

Sarah said she battles anxiety and depression due to living week-to-week, and it takes her at least two to three weeks to budget for an outing with her nine-year-old son.

She "manages to make it work", but said there are a lot of things they go without in order "to make sure my son is fed and clothed".

"With the Foxtel, I had it cut off for a while, but with corona and being at home, I was like, 'can I have it back, because it's no fun being at home with nothing'," she said.

"You do need some form of entertainment. I know it's an expense that I don't necessarily need, but at this present stage of time, you need to do something when you're in lockdown for your own sanity."

Meanwhile, welfare groups have called for a permanent boost to the dole.

"By no means am I demanding the government to commit to the whole $550 increase - merely to consider raising the payment to some degree because the price of everything is going up, and yet we're still getting the same," Sarah said.

"To consider there are single parents with little to no external family network to help with childcare struggling to find work ... We aren't all lazy dole-bludgers.

"I thrive when I work, I love working. Yet as a casual events bartender you are never guaranteed work.

"I'm just worried in six months when it's set to go back down, it's just going to go back to 24/7 Struggle Street."

*Surname withheld by request