"I don't understand how you could live off Newstart, really."Williamson was sent along to Serena Russo, a recruiter that Centrelink works with to help the long-term unemployed. At the beginning, Williamson was classified as stream 1, a highly employable person who was expected to have a job within 12 weeks. When she didn't, she was reclassified as stream 3, which indicates candidates with longer-term issues (Serena Russo receives more funding for stream 3 candidates), and was quizzed about her presentation and mental health. That was a demoralising moment, said Williamson: "I have a degree. I don't have presentation issues. They said I was highly employable ... You don't leave that place feeling good, you feel like you're unemployable and there forever." A month ago she landed a full-time job at her university in administration. "I'm living at home, it makes a big difference to how much money I have, but I'm living off my parents. I don't understand how you could live off Newstart, really," she told Crikey. The single mother: As an accountant who works part time while studying for a certificate IV in accounting and has a 10-year-old daughter, Wendy Tucker is the poster child of single mothers the government wants to encourage. Yet the Gillard government's decision to shift working parents off the higher Parenting Payment and on to the Newstart Allowance as of January 1 this year means that Tucker is down $170 a fortnight from last year. She's currently contracted to pay $350 a week rent for a unit above a shop in Sydney. "There's no way you can rent a house sharing a house with other people when you have a child ... I could move to the central coast and pay $220, but you can't get work." Tucker says if she were just able to finish her studies, she'd be off Newstart within six months. Instead, because of the emotional and financial stress, Tucker has hit pause on her studies for a few months and is concentrating on getting extra work with tax season approaching. "I've got so many things breaking down around the place, but I can’t afford him to put the rent up. When it rains I can’t open the front door, and my daughter has to climb through the window. I've got credit card debt, no one is going to consolidate my debt," she said. She quizzed Employment Minister Bill Shorten on ABC's Q&A about the changes to Newstart for single parents and has been vocal in talking with the media, writing to politicians and requesting interviews with them to protest about the payment changes. "The majority of these women are taking children away from very difficult situations," noted Tucker. Now Tucker has become reliant on the generosity of others. A friend helped out with dance class fees for her daughter, someone else anonymously paid for her daughter's school camp, and Tucker received work clothes from the charity Dressed for Success. "I am so lucky, and I don't want to complain out loud," she told Crikey. "Every day is a worry, every week is a worry ... I just know that I don't want to be on this forever. This is why I’m studying."
What life is like on Newstart: ‘every day is a worry’
What's life like living on Newstart unemployment benefits? Crikey talks to a jobseeker, a single mum and a graduate about how they live on just $497 a fortnight.