Fri. May 20th, 2022

Andy Knight is inked and there is no end to the lockdown in sight.

On a day when the ACT minister announced two dozen more Covid cases, Knight went down to the stores and thought he had $ 28 to his name. But the ATM showed minus three dollars.

“Some pending payments suddenly came through at the wrong time for me,” he says.

It was not always like that. One of the big, cruel irony of Australia’s pandemic is that the lives of people like Knight, 57, have in some ways never been better than last year.

That is not to say it was easy. Not by any means. It was still very, very hard.

But for Knight, whose hometown mostly recently escaped the coronaviruses, life’s desperation disappeared after a poverty payment.

Now things may never have been worse. Delta has come to Canberra and Knight, who lives with mental concerns, is locked up.

Compared to last year, when his job-seeking payments peaked at just above the poverty line, he is at about $ 495 every fortnight, or $ 35 a day, at a disadvantage.

He lives for $ 44 a day, with a quarter deducted for his apartment in an ACT residential complex. Better to say $ 33 a day.

Knight explains the difference between last year and now in sharp terms. “I did not have to go and walk on the path for bumpers,” he says of 2020, referring to the process of using the remaining tobacco in discarded cigarettes to roll new ones.

“I bought some clothes for the first time this year. I bought myself a jacket and pants. And you know I could eat comfortably. ”

And today? “The fact that I do not get it [coronavirus supplement] now it makes it very difficult, ”he says. “One thing I regret that I did not buy is shoes. My shoes are worn now and they have holes, ”he adds. “The winter in Canberra is cold.”

Andy Knight, classified as long-term unemployed, outside his home in Canberra.
Andy Knight, classified as long-term unemployed, outside his home in Canberra. Photo: Mike Bowers / The Guardian

Delta’s arrival in Australia forced a rethink of the Morrison government’s plan to completely turn off extra income support.

Without the jobkeeper subsidy paid to laid-off workers through companies predicting a downturn, the government succumbed to pressure in June and introduced a disaster paycheck for people who had lost their jobs.

But it did not matter to people on income support who were out of pocket after losing random or part-time work, they used to fill their benefits. It responded with a $ 200 payment for welfare recipients who could prove they had lost eight hours or more a week.

But people with the lowest incomes in Australia – those who live solely on welfare benefits – have been left without extra Covid support. It’s Knight, and 540,000 other people like him, who are currently in lockdown, according to last month’s Australian Council of Social Services analysis.

“I suppose the assumption is that we are not feeling worse now than we had before,” Knight says. “If we survived on the dirt, it doesn’t change to be locked inside.”

The Knights’ summary of the government’s position is largely correct. It claims the welfare increase last year was a response to the shock of a nationwide shutdown at the start of a new pandemic.

And it points out that in February, when it increased the base rate for job-seeking payments from $ 40 to $ 44 a day at a cost of $ 9 billion, it was the largest increase in unemployment benefits since 1986.

Still, it’s no consolation for Knight, who has been unemployed since 2013 and does not expect to find a job soon.

“I’ve gotten used to this,” he says. “One of the main reasons I can not get a job is that I have depression and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from the way I was treated by my employer.”

For about 15 years, Knight had worked in television and climbed the ladder from camera operator to director, directing news, sports and current affairs programs. But he says he was eventually pushed out of his job, a traumatic experience that has shaped his life ever since.

The last job he had was as a maintenance man at one of Sydney’s wealthy private schools.

“I chose high school maintenance as a job because I had been told it was the least stressful job in the world,” he says. “I saw a study they did about the lowest levels of stress. Air traffic controllers, brain surgeons were very stressed. But a maintenance man in high school is listed as the least stressful job in the world. ”

At school, Knight did not find the results of the study exactly accurate, at least for him. “I was still stressed every day,” Knight says.

Although much has been said about the impact of lockdowns and the pandemic in general on mental health, including by federal government ministers, less has been said about how the unemployed or disabled are affected by the low welfare pay.

The Guardian Australia reported on Friday on new research from some of the country’s top mental health experts calling for the return of the coronavirus supplement that has helped Knight so much last year.

Despite living through the early days of a pandemic that was in a lifetime, Knight has no doubt he was less stressed last year. One of the central problems of his life had been alleviated.

“You have fewer things to worry about,” Knight says. “I got my hair cut, I got a nice sweater and trousers. I had a little extra money. I thought I might ask the lady in the bookstore who I see occasionally if she would like to go out and have a cup of coffee.

“You feel better about yourself with a little bit of money in your pocket. That kind of snowball. ”

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