Image by Department of Human Services

There is a problem with the public perception of those who receive Centrelink payments. The typical dole bludger is the equivalent of the white trash of United States—better known as the feral. This dole bludger is best perceived like those in Michael Cusack’s popular Damo and Darren; twenty- or thirty-somethings with too many kids to handle, an ice addiction and a love of cigarettes and alcohol. They are basically a nuisance to the regular, battling taxpayer.

This image is wrong. Meet Jill Poulsen’s friend who, through a series of unlucky life choices, finds herself unable to land a job. Surviving on less than minimum wage, Ms. Poulsen’s friend is viewed as both a drug addict and a lazy dole bludger. All because she took a couple of years out of the workforce to look after her severely ill mother. Now this poor woman can’t even find a job, and on the off chance she does, the incompetent job agencies assigned by Centrelink attempt to claim any credit for her hard work.

Another anonymous woman, “X”—who sent this letter to both Saynoseven and Mamamia.com—is from one of the cashless debit card trial areas and has dealt with unimaginable trauma. Centrelink just views her with suspicion, and actually didn’t give her payments when she was a child because she had no proof of identification, as she was homeless. How are we supposed to fix the growing homelessness population if we refuse to give these people help and support? In “X”‘s own words, she had the initiative to not be the stereotypical “dole bludger”, and those in the Department of Human Services (DHS) still didn’t care:

You told me empowerment was key to healing…you told me self determination was key to maturity…you told me personal autonomy and wise choices was key to growth and wanting those things for myself and for my child desperately, I BELIEVED YOU!

Those on the Newstart Allowance—the unemployment benefit—are not the only ones who deal with this every single day. Those on the Disability Support Pension are perceived to be “faking it”, simply because there’s a minority of people who fake physical injuries for the money. Single parents are viewed as though they should’ve stayed with their previous partner, even if said ex-partner was a violent abusive, or is even deceased. Young adults surviving through secondary and tertiary education, who happen to receive Youth Allowance payments, are called lazy because they are allegedly too busy partying and drinking.

There’s no doubt about it: Centrelink payments are not enough to live on.  Jill Poulsen’s anonymous friend from before only earns $570AUD per fortnight, which can be canceled per Centrelink’s whims for no reason at all.

To an extent, one can understand where Centrelink, and those critical of welfare recipients, are coming from. Anyone who’s ever been to Centrelink is immediately greeted by surly-looking security guards, screaming toddlers and what appear to be drug addicts in furious dialog with Centrelink staff. Much like other retail and customer service jobs, Centrelink workers must deal with disgusting abuse and the minority of recipients who are actually trying to “rort” the system.

However, much like other customer service jobs, the bad customers do not outweigh the good, and in the case of Centrelink and the DHS, the bad ones are far less prevalent than the overwhelming majority, who are decent human beings. The majority is being treated as subhuman for the abhorrent behavior of a few bad eggs.

For the most part, the Australian Government spends far more of its budget on other, useless things than the whole welfare budget. There are never going to be enough jobs for a population of 24.13 million people. There will always be welfare recipients. That’s just basic mathematics.

We should be focusing more on those who are actually “rorting” the system, instead of demonizing those hard on their luck. Why punish someone suffering from crippling physical or mental illness; or a single parent who can barely afford their child’s school fees; or someone who is self-employed, but relies on Centrelink to supplement their meager income as Centrelink doesn’t consider their other job a “real” job unless it’s time to dock their fortnightly payments?

The founder of Sarina Russo Job Access—one of the many job agencies more focused on getting funding from the Government than helping recipients get into part- or full-time employment—was caught earlier this year in a scandal of her own. Ms. Russo and Health Minister Sussan Ley wasted thousands of “taxpayer dollars” on a lavish trip to the Gold Coast to celebrate the New Year. Ms. Ley was also caught using Government money on various other vacations, one in which she “impulse purchased” a $795,000AUD apartment.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was recently revealed to have spent $7000AUD on four trips to Adelaide for family birthdays, trips that were definitely not work related. Yet when someone in dire financial straits—like those on the Disability Support Pension or Newstart—receive this amount of money, there is a furor.

And don’t forget Bronwyn Bishop’s infamous Choppergate, in which the former Speaker billed taxpayers $5000AUD to take a helicopter for the eighty kilometre (fifty mile) trip between Melbourne and Geelong.

These are not rare occasions either. For a Government so obsessed with curbing the spending habits of welfare recipients and others who rely on help from the Government, they are incredibly willing to waste money they deem incredibly precious.

As the proverb goes, charity begins at home. The Australian Government appear to be taking this literally, focusing more on themselves than the Australians who actually need help. Instead of demonizing those in a worse life situation than ourselves, why don’t we actually sympathetically try to help those receiving Centrelink payments into a better life?

There are worse things to be “wasting taxpayer dollars” on than struggling human beings who just wish to survive.