Budget battle moves to social media
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Connie Wilson knows what it is like to walk through a supermarket mentally calculating what she has in her trolley to ensure she has enough money once she reaches the checkout.
The Green Valley mother of four has just applied to Centrelink for welfare benefits after her meagre savings began to dwindle under the burden of supporting her four children, aged between six and 11.
Ms Wilson, 44, is looking for a job as a teacher's aide but has struggled to find work. She believes without the help of friends, family members and the Salvation Army, her family would be destitute.
''I make a dollar stretch as far as I can'': Connie Wilson and her son, Kostya, 11, shop for groceries at Warwick Farm with assistance from The Salvation Army. Photo: Brendan Esposito
She pays $480 a week in rent, up to $800 a quarter on utilities and $200 a week on groceries. Having previously worked in the retail sector, she knows all the shopping tips, such as buying meat at the end of the day when it has been reduced. ''If the meat is really cheap, I buy it and freeze it,'' she said. ''It will last three to six months in the freezer.''
Her grocery staples are cheap and filling - bread, noodles and pasta. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a luxury with Ms Wilson buying tinned varieties because they last longer and there is less wastage. New clothes and shoes are also beyond Ms Wilson's budget, with family members chipping in when one of the children has a birthday. A couple of dollars a week are set aside for school excursions.
''I make a dollar stretch as far as I can,'' she said. ''With four kids, what else can I do?''
Ms Wilson's situation is not unusual. The Salvation Army's annual Economic and Social Impact Survey paints a grim picture of hunger, homelessness and deprivation among Australia's poor.
Almost one-third of the 2500 respondents - clients of the Army's welfare centres - did not have secure housing and 14 per cent were homeless. One-quarter could not afford a decent meal at least once a day and 28 per cent could not afford to heat their houses properly.
One-quarter said they could not afford medical treatment and one-third said they were unable to buy medicine prescribed by the doctor.
The Salvation Army's spokesman, Major Bruce Harmer, said changes forecast in the budget, such as the $7 doctor co-payment, would drive them further into poverty. ''These people already live hand to mouth,'' he said.
''If you take benefits away from them or impose extra costs like the Medicare co-contribution, that will have a direct impact. They don't have $7 for a visit to the doctor.''
Ms Wilson fears the budget measures will drive her further into disadvantage. While she does not receive rent assistance, she has been a recipient of the family tax benefit and school kids bonus, worth $410 a year for primary school-aged children.
The thought of having to pay $7 to visit a doctor fills her with worry.
''I am just going to have to make pretty sure my kids don't get sick,'' she said. ''I have four kids so if I have to pay $7 to see the doctor, that's a lot of money for us.''