Pure Poison IconThe classic form of intellectual dishonesty: reframing your target’s argument to something she never argued, ignoring her point completely.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert is presently highlighting the inadequacy of the NewStart payment by attempting to live on it for a week:

“My first task this weekend was to sit down and map out the week” Senator Siewert said today.

“I set money aside to pay for power, gas and the smallest mobile phone credit recharge amount that would still keep my phone connected, in case an employer wanted to ring and offer me work. I also factored in all the bus tickets I will need to visit to my local Centrelink and Job Service Provider, as well as trips to apply for jobs and to the shops.

“After taking all of these essential costs into account, I went from having $17.15 a day down to just $10.11 a day for everything else – food, toiletries and cosmetics, emergencies and so on. My next job was to plan a week’s worth of meals and go shopping. I ended up spending $52 dollars on food that will need to last me for the week, which leaves me just $17 total, or around $2 per day for the rest of the week.

“If I had an emergency now – broken glasses, a car breakdown, an unexpected bill- anything like that, I would have to rely on savings, credit card or help from family or friends to get by.

Which of course are not available to many on NewStart (and any such help would need to be declared and reduce the next fortnight’s payment.)

So how does the Punch‘s Malcolm Farr respond?

You’re not meant to be comfortable on the dole

…[Siewert] clearly doesn’t think a life on welfare is a life well spent.

But I’m not sure that the dole, or New Start Allowance as the bureaucrats would have us call it, is intended to fund a particularly comfortable lifestyle.

Who said that it was? Siewert certainly didn’t.

Siewert’s criticism is not that it’s not “particularly comfortable”, but that NewStart is inadequate for what it’s supposed to do – enable people to survive whilst they can’t find work. Here’s ACOSS giving examples of how it actually makes it harder for people to find work, and locks them in to ever more permanent poverty:

You can’t afford to pay for public transport, you can’t afford to clothe yourself, to be able to present well to an interview and this is now a widely recognised problem in terms of workforce participation.

Yes, and good luck getting to that interview if as a result of this poverty you live in an area with no public transport and you can’t afford a car.

Basically, the reframing of Siewert’s argument as “the Dole should be comfortable” is completely misleading.

Farr completely ignores the point Siewert and ACOSS are making about how the payment is set so low that it actually makes it harder – if not nigh-on impossible – for people trapped on it to escape and find work.

But why bother addressing the actual issue when you can pretend it’s about Dole Bludgers Living It Up? That’s what your readers want to hear, so they can convince themselves they don’t need to care.

UPDATE: Other thing to keep in mind is that we’ve set up a system where the poor actually have to pay more for most things. If it’s available where they live, public transport costs more – and is much sparser and less frequent. If it isn’t, they have to run a car, which will usually be older and consequently cost more to run. Credit costs more, as they subsidise the rest of us who repay our credit within the free period. They’re discriminated against by real estate agents, so they have to pay more for less. Renting, and with no confidence that they’re not going to be given notice at any time with 60 days notice, they can’t sign up to two year contracts for things like phone or internet or other utilities, so have to pay more for those basic services. They can’t lower their bills by taking advantage of government assistance for things like solar panels or water tanks, because they don’t own their own house.

There is a poverty trap, and those of us who’ve never experienced it often don’t know how lucky we are, and how stuck are the poor.

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