Over three million Australians were recorded as living below the poverty line last year. What does everyday life look like for people who rely on welfare?
In this three-part documentary series, author and TV personality Julie Goodwin, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong and journalist Caleb Bond will go on their own separate journeys to experience living on the welfare system to see what it’s really like. They are each sent to a different community – inner city, outer suburban and regional Australia – to gain insight into the poverty and entrenched disadvantage experienced by so many people in this country. It will be a confronting and emotional experience for all three.
Handing over their credit cards, over three episodes, Julie, Caleb and Jenny meet and live with Australians navigating life on various forms of welfare. They learn about the challenges first-hand from a single mother raising four children, a woman caring for her ill husband, a young parent living in a rodent-infested house and a man who lost his job due to COVID-19, among many others.
In some cases, necessities like proper heating, secure and safe accommodation, adequate health care and a decent diet have to be done without.
“I fervently believe that in a first-world country like ours, there is enough for everyone to not just survive, but to thrive,” said Julie. “Yet somehow, our resources are not being shared equitably and it is the most vulnerable who end up with the least. Those with the least power, the smallest voices, the fewest opportunities to create real change for themselves.
“I was privileged to take part in a series that not only addresses issues of inequality and inequity, but also challenges the damaging and pervasive stereotypes that surround people living in poverty.”
Caleb, a Sky News commentator and journalist for News Limited, says that welfare is “not meant to be an income”, nor is it meant to be “comfortable”. He called it a “difficult and eye-opening experience” to briefly experience others’ daily lives on no or low wages for this series. “There are people who are genuinely struggling and can’t seem to get the help they need. You’d like to think governments spend our taxes wisely on those who need help, but I saw waste and bureaucratic incompetence at every turn.”
Jenny, Member for Newtown, has experience working “with people living in public housing and communities impacted by poverty” and she highlighted that while her participation on this show was short-lived, “for so many, this insecurity and uncertainty [of living in substandard housing with little money and a lack of control] is their reality – there is no end in sight. It’s critical that we expose this reality: too often people live in poverty because of choices made by those in power.”
“… too often people live in poverty because of choices made by those in power.” Jenny Leong MP
Jenny continues. “These choices have real consequences and they do real damage to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The system is so broken that it can be impossible to survive within it, and it is most certainly impossible to thrive – and that’s heartbreaking because it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Go on the journey with Julie, Caleb and Jenny over three weeks and consider whether you Could Survive on the Breadline? Look out for a range of other stories, discussions and programs exploring living on welfare that will be available across the SBS network, including on SBS Guide, SBS Voices, SBS Radio, NITV, news and current affairs programs and SBS On Demand over the coming weeks.
Watch the trailer now:
Could You Survive on the Breadline? premieres at 8.30pm, Wednesday 17 November on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series will also be available to stream at SBS On Demand with subtitles in Arabic, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese. See the Program Page for more articles and insights.