Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Sustainable Renter 2011 No. 2 #poverty #renters #resourcefulness


I think this is a wonderful map - and, for those who haven't stopped to think, please note that Australia is not included in Pooristan but is immediately adjacent to some of its inhabitants.

What has impelled me to post about poverty is to-day's article by the inimitable Ross Gittins.  And in case Networkers would like a point of comparison, I have come across this article about life in Poland. I found slivers of resemblance comparing life in Poland and life in Australia.

I think Australia, in the last couple of decades, has become a nation of whingers and whiners.  The well-heeled and -clothed upper middle class complain when there is a cut off of government assistance or advantage at an income of $150K.  There are complaints about the number of refugees coming in an unauthorised manner to that locale of ill fame: Australia's Migration Exclusion Zone.  However, the whingers and whiners don't take into account the very tiny percentage of people who arrive in Australia this way - and how the majority of migrants enter this country.  As well, I haven't noticed any whinging and whining about Australian educational providers, shonky and legitimate (i.e. universities) who bend over backwards to provide a backdoor entry to many, many would-be migrants.   

Australia has become a highly individualistic nation and, certainly in urbanised areas, the idea of community and how it functions is on the decline. Even those seeking to reclaim the concept have difficulties - because so many of us have that highly individualistic trait firmly embedded us.  Many of those who wish to jump on the community bandwagon have difficulty suppressing individualist ambition to the common, greater or less technological good.

Australian civil society - as with many western countries across the planet - has become highly segmented and stratified at a more complex level than ever before.  While Australians might be unhappy with their politicians, part of the reason why we are suffering the complexities of a hung Parliament at the Federal level is the complex and segmented nature of Australian civil society.  Our Parliament is a reflection of our society, not just our political proclivities.

Which brings me back to Gittins and what I see of myself in this article.  Gittins says, among other things:
The groups with the highest risk of facing ''deep exclusion'' are (in declining order) unemployed people, public renters, lone parents, indigenous Australians and private renters.

I am represented in some of the above categories.  I am not employed.  I am a recipient of the full aged pension.  I live alone.  I have been widowed for the past 21+years.  I am a private renter.  If all you see is dollars, a fancy house/apartment, late model car, then I fail miserably.  I do live in poverty - a poverty greater than those living on $149,000 per annum.  

But am I poor?

I cannot honestly say I am poor.  I consider I am in my current situation for three reasons: widowhood (that pall of grief and sadness still hangs over my life after more than two decades); chronic illness as I have aged - including some serious stuff - which prevented stable employment; some poor financial decisions.

I am well-educated with a range of skills, particularly in public and corporate administration.  I have a generalist university degree gained as a mature age student and undertaken externally while living in remote north-west Queensland.  This makes me sufficiently opinionated to blog and twitter across a wide range of topics.  I have never been sure whether the degree helped me to get a better paying job since none of the jobs necessitated a degree and doing it externally, in relative isolation, didn't give me the sort of contacts that are developed in the standard passage through university. 

I am a member of two faith communities so I have a wide range of people coming into my life.  Because I have only lived in Melbourne for six years, I have only a few close, intimate friendships here (I do try to maintain contacts in other places). I am a member of a number of environment and social justice organisations which have kept me involved, stimulated, social and feeling useful - all in good causes.  This year though, I have found that I need to withdraw from almost all these activities because my health has not been good. I feel that I can't pop off to meetings in the city and inner suburbs as I did just a short while ago. As well, even concession memberships place a strain on my very limited budget.  Is isolation creeping into my life?  Only time will tell - but I am savvy enough to know that social isolation is a peril and I must do my part to hold it at bay.

Above all, I am resourceful and I am solution-oriented.  I am planning for a garage sale in a month or two as we come closer to spring with finer and sunnier Saturdays.  Hopefully this will allow me to divest some superfluous possessions and sell some of my gleanings and herbs.  A little extra money can go a long, long way.  I rely on the public health system and I am most grateful for the dental package brought in by Tony Abbott when he was Minister for Health.  This came none too soon for me.  I am grateful that the ALP, in spite of its intentions, has not been able to overturn this.  This package, I believe, has set my dental health on an even keel which can be maintained in the years ahead.  

I try to live frugally - but I am certain it is not yet frugal enough.  I watch my utility spending on electricity, gas and water and I am concerned at the increasing corporatisation of these public necessities and the rising prices that have come in its wake. I run my refrigerator only in off-peak times.  In fact, I now regard it as one big Esky far from those state of the art consumer desirables seen on television. I try to avoid having those blinking lights of electronic equipment when the equipment is not in use.  I have as my water-use yardstick the 60 litres a day of the underdeveloped world.  However, some western practices like washing machines and showers interfere with reaching this target but I try to stay very close to it.  A Smart Meter has recently been installed but - in spite of reading instructions - I can't figure out how to read it.  Can anyone help?  I also wonder if it would be better for me to only run the hot water system occasionally?  Again, I would welcome some advice and someone showing me where to turn it off if I decide to do so.

I am a vegetarian who relies on good old peasant recipes from Asia and Europe to bring welcome variety to my diet.  The vegetarian diet has so much to commend it.  I particularly welcome the relatively low cost by comparison with an animal protein diet and the less mess factor - cooking animal flesh can be a messy, greasy business. 

I have found that some of my shopping ethics have had to take a back seat.  For over forty years, I have always been one to buy Australian even when it costs a little more.  I am no longer able to do that.  I have to buy the cheapest I can while still enabling me to have the quality I can live with.  I am sad about this. Price also means that I can only take organic options occasionally.  But I am still paying more for free range eggs.  I will know I am in a bad place when I have to sacrifice that option.

As far as clothing goes, I was on the receiving end of quite a bit a couple of years ago.  This supply has stood me in good stead and I have bought very little clothing in that time.  I feel the time drawing nearer when I have to make some decisions about clothes.  In September, I will be attending a classy Gold Coast wedding.  I have a stash of fabric and hope I can manufacture something glamourous.  Then I will have to figure out how to get there.  I feel I should start thinking about the wedding present.  That will be an interesting exercise.

I should mention transport.  I have a twelve year old car.  When it ceases to be either affordable or maintainable, I will be car-less. I am a public transport person with a preference for living within walking distance of a railway station. I also live just a block away from a Coles supermarket and a couple of blocks from a major shopping complex.  

The upshot of all this? 
I am not poor - but I do live in a form of frugal poverty. 

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