There are 9830 people in my electorate of Melbourne surviving on Newstart, Youth Allowance or - up until Labor pushed them onto the dole - Parenting Payments Single. They are doing it tough. I want to help draw attention to their plight and to the poverty levels in our wealthy country. I want my Parliamentary colleagues to back the Greens' push to lift Newstart and study allowances by $50/week.
Day One is all about setting up the rules, planning the budget and working out how people cope with living on $35 per day.
To try to simulate living on Newstart, I have set myself some ground rules:
· I will only use the food items and household groceries that I have accounted for in my budget and expenditure;
· I will have to choose the best option for transport for the week and stick to it;
· I will keep track of my phone and internet use and minimise these;
· I will try to estimate utilities costs and keep these to a minimum.
My financee, Claudia, and my two dogs, Max and Albi, will not be living on Newstart – feeding my dogs as well as me would, of course, add even more of a challenge.
Setting my budget
I have had to make a number of assumptions in budgeting for the week. I am taking much of the advice that has been sent to me by people on Newstart. I'll share with you later today some of what they've said.
There is no way I could afford a mortgage on Newstart, so I would need to rent like most recipients do. The cheapest rent I could find in Melbourne for a small apartment is $240 per week. The most I could receive for Rental Assistance is $60 per week – so rent will cost me $180.
Other people have told me that in public housing, rent costs might be anywhere between $80-150 at least. But with 38,000 people waiting for public housing in Victoria, applying for public housing would be a long wait if, say, I'd just become unemployed. I will come back to rent later in the week.
I could try to travel entirely on Public Transport during the week – in my transport rich area of Melbourne, this is possible. However, most people I have spoken to tell me that it is impossible to get to appointments and interviews on time and in all areas without using a car. And many people live in cheaper and poorly serviced suburbs. Also, the cheapest way to travel – buying a weekly Myki pass – would cost $17.50 up front and then I might not travel the 5 days required (5x$3.50 conc rate) to make this worthwhile.
So I have opted to notionally put $7.00 petrol in my car (getting me about 45km) and I will pay for Myki on the days I use PT. (I won't be using any government funded car this week.)
Groceries excluding food (eg. Washing, toiletries etc)
I have allocated $11.80 for household goods including dishwashing liquid, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo and other toiletries.
So, after starting with $35/day, where am I after rent, basic toiletries/groceries and transport?
Start with $246.30
Take out Rent : $180 (cheapest one bedroom flat in Melbourne = $240 -$60 rent assistance) (PH anywhere btw $80 - $150)
= $66.30 after rent
= $9.47 per day after rent paid
Take out Groceries: $11.80 (washing/toiletries etc)
Take out petrol: $7.00 petrol = 45km
= $47.50 for food and all other expenses
= $6.79 per day for food and all other expenses
My $35/day very quickly becomes less than $10 a day to cover food and everything else.
So, let's prioritise.
Phone, internet, utilities
There's not enough money available to put aside money for these at the beginning of the week, so I will use any left over money to pay these bills.
Additional costs – clothes, household items, car, gifts etc.
Again, there's not enough money available to put aside money for these at the beginning of the week, so I will use any left over money to pay for these.
How do people survive on $6.79 per day for food and other expenses? This is already looking impossible. But I will try to put together meals on this budget.
I have put in my pantry the cheapest items I could find that will provide me with a simple daily diet of:
Breakfast: Oats and milk
Lunch: Cheese sandwiches
Dinner: Pasta, rice, vegies, maybe tuna
Snacks: Fruit; tea or coffee; vegemite or peanut butter sandwich
This will cost me $5.26 per day – before buying any fruit and vegies.
It's already clear I am going to need to skip some meals during the week or find food elsewhere for some meals. I will have to spend as little as I can on any fruit and vegies.
So today, I have worked out a budget – and it is looking incredibly lean – and I will be shopping for fruit and vegies as cheaply as I can.
I'll report back in after my first shop and share some of the stories others have told me about how they try to make ends meet.
My money at start of Day One
$246.30 - $180 (rent) - $7.00 (petrol) - $11.80 (groceries) - $5.26 (food, excluding fruit and veg)
= $42.24 for the rest of the week