If you lost your job today and you had to apply for the jobseeker benefit, do you know how much you’d get? I mean that. Seriously. Image you’re over 25. You’re single. Covid-19 has happened and lose your job. You apply for a benefit. After tax, how much do you think you get? As of today. You would qualify for $250.74. Is that more, or less, than you might have expected?
Imagine trying to cover off transport costs, clothes, and food. You might get another 130 a week to help with accommodation. There’s a winter energy payment you might qualify but none of that stuff goes far. You can shop the cheap brands at Pak ‘n’ Save all you like, but 250 bucks a week isn’t much to live on. I wouldn’t have a chance. And of course it’d be even harder if you had children to support, as well. I’d be in the queues out the door at the Sallies or the City Mission just like all those other Kiwi families. Life would be really tough.
To me though, I think maybe the first question tells us more about our society. The question isn’t whether or not you could live a life of any decency on that much money, but if you honestly had any idea what the dole is worth in 2020. I’d take a stab in the dark and say a lot of us had no real idea. It’s like Bill Gates trying to guess the price of a bottle of milk. He never goes to the supermarket so it’s not something that’s crossed his mind in decades.
That’s the thing with the benefit. Most of us who’ve never been on one don’t even know how little someone receives before we feel sufficiently informed to slag them off as bludgers. I’m not saying everyone on a benefit is out and about and actively seeking work and looking to lift themselves and their loved ones into a better life of fulfilling employment and contributions. But I also think it’s a really easy and lazy criticism for us to casually group all beneficiaries together and characterise them as bludgers on the couch. And I wonder if this crisis is going to change a few attitudes.
Do you think the staff who are being made redundant at Air New Zealand are bludgers? Or the staff at Sky City? Or Flight Centre? The staff who were working at those Bunnings that are closing? I know my colleagues aren’t bludgers but heaps of them have lost their jobs. And there’s a fairly good chance, with all the many thousands of Kiwis being made redundant at the moment that some people who might never have expected to have to rely on a benefit - will. At least for a bit.
And that’s why it’s there, of course. Help in a crisis. Almost 40 thousand Kiwis signed up for the jobseeker benefit last month, as Covid took off. Almost half of them had never been on a benefit before.
Sure, the government of kindness that pitched itself as being dedicated to the fight against poverty has rejected advice from its own working group for a second year in a row, and the pleas of all manner of food banks and social agencies, and refused to increase benefits in the budget.
But aren’t you glad that for all the easy hits we score on beneficiaries, there was still something there to help all those people who lost their jobs? I am. After all, any one of them could have been me. Covid-19 isn’t over. Any one of them could still be you.
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