Sophie Hatten

Centrelink Thursday: From gainfully employed to societal burden

Approx Reading Time-11Having endured the shock of losing my career and registering with Centrelink, I decided to chart the first steps of my experience. 

 

People with more knowledge than I can explain the holistic and inherent difficulties Australians face when running the Centrelink gauntlet. It is common knowledge that Centrelink are dropping an insane amount of staff, auto-reject student claims and, most recently, have been getting into some seriously hot water over possibly illegal “internship” schemes. But all I can tell you is what I’ve seen, and my own personal experiences have been, for the most part, not positive.

One of the most emotionally devastating things that ever happened to me was being let go from my full-time job. My first week of unemployment was spent in bed crying, questioning every aspect of my professional life.

I had spent years getting a university degree, hours on free internships to gain experience and had worked hard for months to establish my position. The day I was let go I felt like I had lost it all, and my professional life had been irrevocably cast adrift.

It has, if I’m honest, the same feeling of an unexpected breakup.

In situations as these, you blame yourself. I asked myself what I’d done wrong; what I could have done better; if I had done this or this or this would things have been different?

Eventually, I applied for Centrelink’s Newstart Allowance, because bills gonna bills.

The first part of getting back on your feet is to register for the help. And let me tell you, if you’re applying to Centrelink, this is not welcomed. It’s something else entirely. Disrespect is screamed out, albeit tacitly, by both the surroundings, and the calm faces of those behind the desks. Centrelink is tedious by design. It’s immediately obvious this is an industry filled with people who are overworked, overwhelmed and underpaid. Even the great composers of yesteryear are not safe, with the back catalogue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the background and in phone queues as you and the operators sit in vain hope of dropped calls.


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As I eventually reached the end of many queues, they took all the information, signatures and documents about my identity that they had asked for. Then finally, after weeks of interviews and paperwork, I finally got my two hundred dollars a week.

Less than what I had been previously getting when I was gainfully employed.

But according to A Current Affair my new income would be enough for me to pay rent and be able to buy a PlayStation and games. I also don’t smoke, so I figured based on the ACA budget I could probably buy myself a pretty epic wardrobe. (Spoiler alert: I could not.)

Next, you’re allocated to a recruitment agency. Relying on my government recruitment agency was one of the most frustrating experiences of the whole process. I suspect maybe my expectations were too high; my aim was to get a relevant job in my industry, rather than just any job that was offered to me.

Recruitment agencies have resources which jobseekers find essential. They give you practise interviews and help you refine your resume. Most importantly, however, without being registered for Centrelink, you cannot access these resources. This means that I was turned away for three weeks while I got Centrelink sorted out, essentially leaving me in a state of inertia.

My agency found two jobs while I was with them; one was at a printer for two days and another as a part-time counter girl at a bakery. They found the bakery job on their lunch break while buying lunch from there. When I told them I was unable to return to the printer due to back spasms, I was accused of dole bludging. I’m not saying recruitment agencies aren’t a valuable job hunting resource, but there is no incentive for them to find me the right job. Their job is just to find me any job. I was merely part of a number that needed to be reduced, and if I was to return, they’d deal with that equation then.

I went from an educated and productive taxpayer to a perceived societal burden to be passed over whenever someone saw I wasn’t currently employed. The longer I was unemployed, the darker my black mark became, the more I was firmly convinced I was never going to find another job.

I understand that governments don’t like “giving away” money, but Centrelink is a safety net for the vulnerable. Maybe cutting money and resources from an already burdened service isn’t an answer.

Either way, I’m endeavouring to find out.

See you next week. I have to be here.

 

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