Q&A speaker Ricci Bartels isn't a "dole bludger" or a "job snob"

Ricci Bartels isn’t a “dole bludger” or a “job snob”

Ricci Bartels
Ricci Bartels has paid taxes in Australia for 46 years. She worked for 20 years in the private sector and then 26 years in the public sector for a NFP community service organisation.

At age 62, through change of management & subsequent retrenchment, she was forced on to Newstart.

She has been living on the government allowance for three years now because she has been unable to find a job – no matter how hard she has tried. Given how prevalent age discrimination in Australian workplaces is for workers over 50 this is hardly surprising.

When asked to describe her life on Newstart she was honest.

“To put it in a nutshell, it’s the worst time of my life. The loss of dignity, the loss of friends because you can’t go out, you can’t socialise, not eating proper food, even though I suffer various ailments. Looking for a job, applying for a job, not getting the job … for me it was the worst time of my life.”

On Monday night Ricci Bartels told her story on national television, posing a question to the panel on ABC’s Q&A program. After explaining her circumstances she wanted to know how someone like her could ‘have a go to get a go?’ as the Prime Minister has so often said.

It is easy, apparently, to demonise Newstart recipients. To describe them as ‘dole-bludgers’ or ‘job snobs’ and pretend that it’s merely laziness or a lack of interest that necessitates an existence on government assistance.

“There are jobs out there for those who want them,” the federal minister for employment, Michaelia Cash, told The Australian newspaper on Tuesday.

It’s a convenient – albeit baseless – argument.

Writing in The New Daily Michael Pascoe said the key finding from the employer survey Cash’s department undertook “is that she is either too ignorant or simply not smart enough for her job. The kindest reading of the “job snobs” story about employers finding it hard to recruit people is that Senator Cash is not across key issues in her portfolio.”

Certainly the idea that there are jobs out there for job-hunters is inaccurate.

Four academics, Greg Marston, Gaby Ramia, Michelle Peterie and Roger Patulny, studied the well-being, social networks and job search experiences of unemployed Australians between 2015 and 2018.

Their study, funded by the Australian Research Council, involved policy analysis, surveys and in-depth interviews. They talked to employment service providers and 80 job seekers in regional and urban areas of New South Wales and Queensland. What did they uncover?

“We found no evidence job-seekers preferred not to work,” they wrote. “In fact, based on the considerable “job search activity” required of them to meet Centrelink’s stringent “mutual obligation” conditions, it was hard not to conclude that, whatever the reasons for their joblessness, lack of willingness to work was not one of them.”

Ricci Bartels is an articulate and compelling case in point. Not working and relying on Newstart has been devastating for her.

At 62, after 46 years as a productive and comfortable citizen, she has commenced a life in poverty, unable to socialise or even eat properly, not because she’s lazy or wanted to but because circumstances forced her hand. And she hasn’t been complacent. She’s spent three years applying for jobs she hasn’t got.

Listen to Bartels’ frank description of trying to live each week with a sum of money that has been unanimously declared unliveable and it’s difficult to say that’s a “choice” many would make freely.

Some have argued, of course, that Bartels was a plant. That she was a stooge, a liar and has concocted aspects of her story, and she’s been trolled on social media because of it.

There is no proof of this, but even if she was chosen by producers simply to put a human face to this problem, it’s farcical to say her story is fantasy.

It’s real and there’s nothing fantastic about it. There are thousands of Australians enduring the ignominy of poverty and homelessness – right now – not because they’re bludgers or snobs but because they can’t get jobs.

Bartel’s question, about how exactly people like her – of whatever age – are supposed to ‘have a go’ is one politicians appear reluctant to address – and not just on television.

She described the ‘have a go to get a go’ slogan as divisive. But worse than that it is false and deeply insulting. It presupposes that any Australia who wants to be employed can simply walk out their door, straight into a job. If only.

If that were true Ricci Bartels would be telling a different story. A story in which she retained the dignity that employment afforded her, a story without the misery that life on Newstart entails.

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