$40 a Day Are you worth it?

Text: Marcus Westbury

“I could live on 40 bucks a day knowing that the government is supporting me with Newstart looking for employment,” Ms Banks [Julia Banks, federal Liberal MP for Chisholm] told ABC radio.
She denied she was out-of-touch.
SBS News, 2 May 2018

Could I live on $40 a day?

Possibly. Probably. Maybe for a while. I was unemployed off and on for a couple years at a time when social support was relatively more generous, and I somehow came out the other end of it. After all, humans can sometimes have an amazing capacity to be resourceful and to find their way through even the most impossible of circumstances.

But could I do it, for any length of time and come out intact? Without being broken? Without stretching my relationships and breaking them to the point where they could never be repaired again? Without leaning so heavily on my friends that I had to call in so many friendships and favours that I had none left?

Could I do it without losing, or at least questioning, my own sense of dignity and self-worth? Without having a little piece of myself and my self-confidence and dignity chipped away piece-by-piece, day-by-day?

Could I do it and remain both physically and mentally healthy? Could I keep up a reasonable diet? Could I make it stretch through the last few days of the fortnight without searching down the back of the couch for enough coins for a packet of 2-minute noodles or simply scrounging, or going hungry for a couple of days? I couldn’t do it then and I doubt I could do it now.

Could I do it without thinking that my relative income was a measure of my relative worth? Would I inevitably drift towards thinking I was worth very little? I am not sure. Maybe. Perhaps…

… If I wasn’t socially isolated. If my economic poverty did not inherently throw me into a poverty of community and connection. But too often it does. It has to. You can’t afford to connect in a society where capital is the price of participation in public space.

It is so hard to remain part of a community if you desperately need to take and doubt what, if anything, you might have to give back no matter how much you feel you should and you want to.

If you’re lucky, a strong community can hold you up and build you up through such times. That’s what held me up. I guess that’s why people find God and good works in their desperation. But, really, we should never put that responsibility on the most vulnerable and fragile among us.

That strong community that should hold us up is the one we are all part of. All of us. We should never ask the weakest among us to beg, to starve, to be constantly and desperately needy. To be short enough of what they need that they feel defined by their neediness.

This community, all of us, should offer dignity, support and at least the idea that there is a way out and a leg up. Where you are does not reflect who you are. You should never be so stretched by what you need to get to get by that you can’t even contemplate what you might need and be able to give back.

I am not sure what that’s worth but I’m pretty sure it’s more than $40 a day.


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