Even without Robodebt, Centrelink is a hellscape of cruelty

About a month ago I lost my job. At the time I looked at my bank account and calculated that if I pinched my money wherever I possibly could, I’d have about a month’s worth of money to live off. Call it the beginning of my ‘struggling artist’ era, but what happened the following month is the opposite of what you see in the movies or even the news.

I wasn’t naïve. I knew the system was going to be painful. But trust me, if you aren’t dealing with Centrelink, you don’t know how painful it really is.

The first sign of trouble was that when I went to apply online my attempts to prove my identity failed. I had provided my passport and my driver’s licence which the MyGov website said proved my identity, but wasn’t enough for Centrelink for some reason. It says you must provide your Medicare card, so I did, but it claimed my Medicare number wasn’t real and I was blocked from being able to start the application process. 

Days, phone calls and a trip into the storefront later, they said I had a common glitch that required them to fully reset my account. A common issue that took days to fix, before I can even start the application process through their constantly crashing website. 

This hassle would become the first of many stupid road bumps in my journey to paying my fucking rent!

Then I had a long list of specific questions about not just my situation but also my roommates’, landlord’s and former employer’s. Questions that I didn’t know the answer to, meaning I spent days finding out how much my roommates pay in rent and other such irrelevant shite. 

Then the process got even more cruel and confusing. Like, did you know that if you lose your job there is a specific form your ex-employer has to fill out otherwise Centrelink automatically assumes you’re lying about being made redundant and blocks you from applying for JobSeeker? 

Having it in writing may hold up in court, it may be more than enough for the tax office or literally any other entity that may inquire but Centrelink runs on the assumption that you could have hacked your old boss’s computer and sent that written confirmation to yourself all for that sweet sweet few hundred bucks a week. Dafuq, right?

I mean, who wouldn’t fire themselves from a paying job to instead rake in an amount that is roughly along the international poverty line?

There are so many ridiculous forms you’ve probably never heard of that are secretly required for you to even be able to book a meeting to apply for JobSeeker, many for information that other departments have based on normal records. For example, the tax office already knows I haven’t had income in the last month, but the level of proof the ATO requires isn’t enough for Centrelink.

Also, I don’t know about you, but after getting fired the last thing you want to fucking do is have to spend a month chasing up your former boss and landlord for information!

If you want help with this confusing complicated system, you call the helpline, right? Well, they’ll just tell you to wait a few days and book an appointment in person… where you’ll be told to just do it all online. A never ending cycle of bullshit where it takes literal days just to progress slightly. 

This cycle led me to reach out to more experienced people, from whom I got three types of advice:

  • ‘See if you can get on the news’
  • ‘Keep trying and hope to get somewhere before you’re homeless’ 
  • ‘Just give up and hope to find a job in time’.

After a month with no money coming in, I don’t think the system failed. I think it worked. The system is soul-crushing; it wants you to give up and not have money for your basic needs.

It would’ve been more humane if a month ago the information sheets just said ‘fuck you’ instead. At least that way I wouldn’t have split my time between looking for work and trying to get the dole.

All this pain doesn’t happen in a vacuum either. The struggles of day to day life continue. I still had to pay rent through this month, my credit card payment is due, my rego is due, my phone bill is due. All these things I have used while trying to get on the dole, but what about those who can no longer afford to apply online like the system demands?

This is why I have taken up a new extreme sport: couch surfing. If you think that isn’t an extreme sport then you really don’t understand the risk of what happens when I can’t find a couch to surf on and wipeout. But the fact that I have found a couch to crash on means I am one of the lucky ones.

Also, this couch surfing that could have been avoided if the system was usable, means my residence has changed but I can’t edit that in the application anymore, so I have to start from scratch again. You would assume that insecure housing would be something the system for unemployed would be ready to help with, but again it doesn’t feel like the system is designed to help.

This inhumane system is bolstered by a media and political class that don’t care about us.

The coverage of the Robodebt Royal Commission ‘weirdly’ went quiet once the commission moved on from talking about Scott Morrison’s role in it to the real harm Robodebt caused, until of course Porter and Tudge were up to bat. The media’s ability to care about this issue seems to be limited to when they can use a politician’s name and ‘legality’ in the title for clicks. When they can’t, it isn’t news.

Instead they shifted gears to talking to ‘battlers’ slamming the idea that people in Australia shouldn’t be living in literal poverty.

Also, if you’re wondering what ‘small business’ this guy works for, according to his LinkedIn profile it’s called ‘Qantas’ where he is the company director, showing how the media narrative around this issue these days is as structurally sound as a Qantas plane.

In terms of politics, Labor went from demanding change as opposition to radio silence on the issue as the government.

Labor campaigned on being the option that possessed empathy and understood what it was like to struggle, as signified by the hourly retelling of Albanese’s upbringing as the child of a single mother on welfare. He would act as though he was holding back a tear at the idea of a child in the same position today looking at him and going, ‘I want to be like that millionaire landlord’, but in reality that child would say, ‘I want to be like him, he has food’. No empathetic country would treat those most in need the way the system treats those looking for welfare in Australia.

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