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Heartbreak, isolation and stress: the strains of living on the dole

Anxious: Lisa Blundell, 29, lives on Newstart and has a small part-time job.

Anxious: Lisa Blundell, 29, lives on Newstart and has a small part-time job. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Lisa Blundell can sum up what it's like to live on Newstart in a word: stressful.

Anxiety over money is never far from her mind, even though her unemployment benefit is augmented by a 10-hour-a-week casual job.

Finding suitable housing has added to the strain. After being evicted from their house in western Sydney recently, Lisa and her mother have ended up in crisis accommodation run by Parramatta Mission. ''Some weeks are pretty bad when it comes to rent and all the other bills,'' she said.

Lisa's mother, Debbie, who is also on Newstart, is forced to get a supermarket voucher from a local charity about once a month. She is grateful for the help but doesn't like to do it.

''It's all part of the stress,'' she said.

Last week's federal budget heightened anxiety levels for the pair, especially the government's plan for a new $7 co-payment for GP visits and tests.

''That will cause real problems for us so we're trying not to get too stressed out about it,'' Lisa said. ''We're hoping it will be blocked [in the Senate].''

Glenda Ellwood-White lives in a single room in a Lewisham boarding house with her 23-year-old son, who goes to TAFE. She said life on Newstart was like being stuck ''on a human hamster wheel''. Glenda is ''anxious'' about her poor diet but can't afford healthier food.

''I often think my stomach will kill me if I have any more noodles … so I just have a piece of toast and a cup of tea,'' said the 60-year-old, who has been out of work for five years.

''It's a bit heartbreaking, but sometimes I can't even afford to eat.''

Robert (not his real name) hated the stigma he felt being on Newstart.

''You experience isolation and even shame receiving welfare,'' said the 25-year old, who recently got a job. ''I never enjoyed a day on the dole.''

He said living on Newstart was much more difficult than people assumed.

''Being a welfare recipient isn't a lifestyle I like to live and I will do everything I can to get out of that position. But sometimes you have no other option.''

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