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October 2017

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Saturday, July 29th, 2017 09:55 am
Gearing up for the start of classes next week, which means this week I've been practicing getting up at 5am (mostly to find out whether I am going to be able to get up at 5am, or whether I'm going to have to shift things even earlier in the morning). Good news: I can get away with a 5am start on the mornings I have 8am classes (8am class means I need to be ready to leave the house by 7.30am). Bad news: by about October, I'm going to have to shift my wake-up time back to 4.30am, because I'm still working on extending my writing time each month, and I don't have too much to spare at present. Today I have plans to clear last semester's readings and work off my uni laptop, and make sure its battery is all charged up and ready to go, and then I'm all set to go.

So this week I'm going to get a bit political.

I'm on welfare in Australia. Lately I've noticed an annoying tendency in conservative commenters on the Australian political sites I read (the Conversation, the Guardian) to be talking about people on welfare as though we deliberately choose to be on welfare rather than getting work. Now, I'm not denying there are possibly a very small minority of highly privileged people on welfare who are in a situation where they could go to an employer any day of the week and find employment, and they're just choosing not to because they can't be arsed. But I suspect this minority (if they exist) are a tiny fraction of a single percentage point of the bulk of people receiving welfare payments from the Australian federal government. The majority of us are getting welfare because our alternative isn't "get a job"; it's "starve".

I don't have sole control over whether I'm employed. If I had sole control over whether or not I was employed, I would be working. I would have a steady job with reasonable pay and I would be doing my level best to keep that job for as long as I possibly could. I don't enjoy being unemployed, I don't enjoy living on an income which is $380 per fortnight below the poverty line (it's not quite half the poverty line, but I'm sure Mr Tudge and Mr Porter are doing their best to get it there), I don't enjoy living in a situation where having the fridge or the washing machine or (gods forbid) the car break down would be enough to break us financially. But I also don't have sole control over whether or not I'm employed.

The decision over whether I will get a job I've applied for rests with the employer, and always has done. I have no control over it. I can do my best, I can present myself as the ideal candidate for the job, I can present my resume and my experience and all the rest of it - but the end decision rests with the employer. Which means if the employer decides to go with someone who has a better set of skills for the job, or who has a bit more recent workplace experience, or even with someone who is a good twenty years younger than I am, there's not much I can do about it. I've done my best, but I'm competing with a lot of people in the employment market at present - the underemployment rate in Australia is riding at about 20%, and the number of people who are working two jobs is increasing (which means yes, we're getting into a situation where some people are working two or three jobs in an effort to earn a living wage, and others aren't able to even get one job - and there already aren't enough jobs to go around at one each).

I suspect the core issue here is the conservative commenters have bought the myth of "individual choice" holus bolus, complete with every single factory add-on there is. Which means to them, I did choose to be unemployed. I chose to be mentally ill. I chose to be born on the autism spectrum. I chose to be born to working-class parents rather than upper-middle-class ones. I chose to be born in the early nineteen-seventies, twenty years before schools and universities were really set up to work at retaining people like me. I chose to go to state primary schools and state high schools rather than private ones. I chose to not learn study skills in primary school (because I'd never actually needed them; neither of my parents have stellar study skills either, for much the same reasons). I chose to have nervous breakdowns starting in my late teens and continuing on at a regular basis ever after. I chose to go to university rather than quitting high school at the end of year ten and taking a secretarial course. I chose to not have a clear career path and be paralysed by all the options available to me.

All these wrong choices I apparently made. I mean, yeah, sure, it clearly starts with my choice of genetics and my choice of parents, and from a couple of wrong choices like that it's really hard to recover, y'know. I should have done better back then. All these choices where I made what looked like the right choice at the time (such as staying in high school past year ten, rather than quitting and doing a secretarial course) based on the knowledge I had at the time. All of those choices led to me being where I am now: on the dole, and not likely to get off it any time soon. So which choices should I have made differently, and who has the time machine handy in order to get me to re-make them?

As it stands, the choice before me is simple: I can stay on welfare and survive, or I can go off welfare (as these people would prefer) and die. My survival instinct is a nasty, vicious bastard of a thing - I know this because I've lived with suicidal ideation since I was about eleven - and I'm now forty-six. So that's thirty-five years where my brain has been trying to get me to kill myself, and it hasn't succeeded yet. Faced up against a survival instinct like that, do you really think I'm likely to get off welfare just because these nincompoops think I should be ashamed of myself?

Okay, so, spleen vented. How's everyone else this week?


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