Just quietly Centrelink can get FIRETRUCK

It has felt like an eternity since I last wrote a post and the main reason if I am to be brutally honest is that I have/had lost confidence and was not sure what to actually write about. I had given into fear.

I was told a fantastic quote today, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers the fear” – Nelson Mandela

Today I am brave!

This desire to write has been eating away at me, and the fact I haven’t has caused much angst and frustration towards my abilities and myself. I am not saying I’m a great writer and probably far from it, yet I have developed a love for my blog and I’ve missed it.

After undergoing a traumatic day recently, I felt inspired and strength from within to share my experience and what better way than to write for my blog.

I know that other parents have gone through my ordeal, I am not alone and either are you. I still feel angry, disappointed and completely let down by the Australian government and Centrelink and to give a word…abandoned.

Really the trauma began earlier this year when my ‘preferred’ government party (Labor) changed the single parenting pension to ‘Newstart’. This meant my payments reduced dramatically although I still get Family Tax Benefits. My pension, now Newstart dropped to practically nothing but I did get something, $14 a fortnight and I still maintained my pension, sorry Newstart card. I was not informed that the income threshold would change. Silly me, perhaps I should have researched this, however I trusted our government. Surely if there was information to know, they as in Centrelink would advise us of any changes, right?

I recently noticed the last couple of payments from Centrelink were much higher than they should be. After a couple of lengthy phone calls to try and sort it out, I was advised to go into my local office as the paperwork I had uploaded months ago (like the good girl that I am) was confusing them. I was also told that my Newstart allowance was suspended until the situation was resolved. I’m yet again starting to feel that I am being punished for their mistakes.

Anywho, off I went to the ‘office’ with the forms I had previously uploaded and my taxation assessment notice, which had always been a requirement at the end of the financial year. After waiting two hours my name was finally called. I handed over my paperwork and started to explain the situation when I was cut off mid sentence with this man telling me that I had brought the wrong paperwork and what was required was the tax return that was lodged with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). I argued this information had never been discussed with me and began to protest at which he replied with a smirk that it is a requirement, as they need to assess my return separately to the ATO. This was when I was told that Centrelink allows different expense claims to the ATO. Again, something else I was not told and I have been a sole trader for quite some time working part-time. By the way, isn’t Centrelink part of the Australian government so why would it be different?

Next came the news that shattered my world.

My Newstart payments will cease and so will the access to a pension card as I am over the threshold.

I could not control my emotions and as I sat there, tears started to pour down my face.  I know of some families who had their payments reduced by hundreds of dollars and have hit the poverty line. The income threshold under the single parenting pension was around $44,000 gross. I was told this day that the income threshold for Newstart was different to the Single Parenting Pension, now $37,446.50 before tax, in which I am under $40,000 but over this amount. This is a huge drop for someone earning a low income and quite detrimental.

Personally, my benefit dropped by $180 a fortnight down to $14. The drop in money obviously affected me, however I still had my concession card. For those that do not know, the concession card can be priceless and are given to low-income earners. Some of the benefits include assistance with utility bills, registration, medication, doctor and specialists visits to name just a few, even discounts on certain leisurely activities, which would sometimes not be possible if you had to pay full price.

To make things worse, I was also told I owed Centrelink $1100 due to their dysfunction systems and mistakes. By this stage I was very upset, sobbing quietly yet unable to control the tears. How is someone meant to support their child and themselves with less than $40,000 a year? How are we meant to survive I asked? I was told I am not the only one in a rather condescending tone.

I think what made it worse was the lack of compassion. It was obvious I was distraught and vulnerable yet I was made to feel like just another number, which I guess I was. I felt so alone in that clinical space filled with strangers, my imagined future flashing before my eyes while I sobbed.

Just quietly, Centrelink can get FIRETRUCK!Firetruck_centrelink

I will not let Centrelink, The Australian Government or this situation define me and bring me down. I’ve since shed many tears and I am filled with anger that I need to let go. I get annoyed as I, like many other single parents do the right thing. I give the right income estimate, I do what I’m told, and I’m honest and aim to be the best person and Mother possible.

I am a survivor, my son has never gone without, and I will get through this. I am not desperate…yet and I refuse to let our situation become dire. I have much to be grateful for. My best friend pointed out to me that I have wanted to be free of Centrelink due to all the heartache over the years and now maybe this is my time. We shall see…

They do say, a positive comes from a negative. In this case, my recent heartache and experience has allowed me to write again.

Love and light, stay safe and sending snuggles xo

 

If you are in a similar situation, please make sure you do your research and find out as much information as possible so you don’t get caught out. Not that it would be your fault, yet the Australian Government and Centrelink fail to inform their customers of the full details to changes that they make.  Some of these links may help:

Department of Human Services
Continuum Financial Planners
Low Income Health Care Card

Ho Ho Ho…Santa is just a sleigh away

Image property of author

How are you all feeling with Christmas only around the corner and the New Year is shortly to follow?  I personally am feeling exhausted and am looking forward to having some quiet time without the normal hustle and bustle of life, if only for a few days.

Time has got away from me of late and I have not been able to write as many posts as I would have liked and there is always too much to write than what time permits.  The one thing I wanted to talk about is how some of us, this time of year can really find it hard to make ends meet.  If you are anything like me, the last thing you want to happen is for your child to have any inkling into the despair one can feel, and for them to never feel like they have missed out.  This is certainly one promise I made to myself when I gave birth to my son and to date, he has felt he is the luckiest boy around. There are moments I have to express that times are tough; we cannot afford things, and explain that he never really goes without. My son also knows that the study I am currently doing, as well as the various jobs I am doing are for us as a family.  I feel this is important for any child, no matter what the circumstance is so that they do not take anything for granted. There are too many children out there who are unappreciative of what their parents do for them and what life offers them as a result.

My big tip for planning when it comes to Christmas is to take advantage of the mid-year toy sales where they offer you the option to lay-by to Christmas Eve.  I have done this for many years and it is the only way I can survive and manage the financial side of things with Christmas. I get much joy out of giving and even more so now when I have many friends with children who are like family to me and I want to spoil them. I know I don’t have to, yet I choose to and I love doing it. By taking the lay-by option, this allows six months to pay off your purchase.  Obviously you cannot go extreme and by the whole shop (although the temptation might be there), we do need to stick to our set budgets. I make a list of the children and family members I buy for.  When the catalogues come out, I browse through them to get an idea, sometimes I check with the parents to make sure I am on track and have a set amount to spend on each before I enter the store.  I also make purchases throughout the year (even if I can’t really afford it) when items are on sale.  Quite often you can get something that is worth double what you pay and for me; I get much pleasure in knowing this.  Start the collection early and do not leave it all to the last-minute.

I guess for anyone and even more so for a single parent earning the only income to support their family, that PLANNING is the key. It has worked for me and I feel it should work for others.  In saying all this, sometimes nothing can help ease the pain of not having enough money to pay the bills, buy the presents, and have the array of food on the table and so on. This year I believe has been one of the hardest for me financially in the 10 years of being a single parent. I cannot explain why as I am working just as hard, if not more. Perhaps it is because the price of living keeps going up yet our pays does not – perhaps it is because my son is getting older and along with this comes a higher price tag.  There are associations out there that can help you, if you feel you are in dire straits and even if it is only for now you are feeling stressed and unable to do it all.

To start with as I have found through research is to start with contacting local charities and civic organisations to find out if they offer an outreach to the needy during the festive season. Churches can also offer assistance and if you belong to one why not call them and see if they can assist you.  Local communities often have their own Christmas drive, maybe give them a call and find out more and follow the leads they give you. If family members or friends offer you assistance in any way, do not feel ashamed of taking them up on it as I am sure if the shoe was on the other foot, it would be you helping them.

Some of the associations I know of are:

The Smith Family

Centrelink

The Salvation Army

To be honest, this year for the first time in 10 years, I have had to ask for help and advice. I contacted the Salvation Army (Salvos) after a friend of mine who has done volunteer work discussed it with me. I was not aware of the help they offer and was surprised in how loving, supportive an open-minded they are.  The big advice my friend gave me was to not feel ashamed.  This is something I struggled with as I am a very proud and independent person. I HAVE to do things on my own and find it hard to accept help when needed.  It took a lot for me to call the Salvos, yet I did and when I visited them, I was greeted by volunteers who made me a coffee and offered me a chocolate or muffin while I waited to speak with someone. I was trembling with nerves and fighting the voice inside telling me I should not be there. I was questioning everything and trying to analyse the situation. It was like a battlefield within my head with two opposing sides having their say.  Once I entered the office and the woman introduced herself to me, I was reassured I was ok and that what I was doing was ok. The female volunteer praised me for all I am doing for my son and the life we are living and again like my friend said to not feel ashamed of being there.  She then added, “We are here to help and although we cannot always do all we would like, we will do our best and sometimes that is just to listen to you”.  It was further explained the different sorts of options the Salvos are able to offer someone who is in need. For example, helping to pay a bill (if the bill is overdue and you have already asked for an extension), they also offer food hampers, gift hampers for children, bits and pieces depending on what they have in their office at the time. As I was waiting for my name to be called and after I had my meeting, I noticed all the different types of people visiting the Salvos. There were young and old, nicely and poorly dressed, a mix of races and cultures which was lovely to see the Salvos did not discriminate against anyone.  If you are someone in need, it does not matter where you come from or how you look. Some people were popping in just to get a free cup of tea or coffee and to see a friendly face and have someone ask how they were.

I left the Salvos with the information I needed and felt a sense of relief. The visit did not answer all my questions nor did it fix all of my problems, yet knowing a place like this existed was a breath of fresh air. I discussed the experience with my son and expressed the hesitation I was feeling.  He said to me, “Mum I think you should feel very proud”. I replied by asking him why he feels I should be proud. He said “You have looked after me on your own without ever really asking for help in 10 years. I think you should be very proud of yourself Mummy”.  Bless my darling boy!

I don’t think shame ought to be an emotion anyone should feel regardless of whether we have only asked for help once or many times. There are organisations, institutes and people from the general public who are there to help those in need and want to help. This could be because of financial hardship, emotional issues, employment, or just needing an ear to listen and hear our voice.

On this note, I would like to wish you all a Wonderful and Happy Christmas and may the New Year bring much love, laughter, happiness, light and peace into your lives and souls. A new year can mean a new beginning, a new journey or chapter in our lives.  Let us not dwell on the past, or wish the future away. Let us live in the NOW and make the most of what we have and remember that there are people far less fortunate than us. If we have one, two or a handful of people around us who love and support us, then how lucky are we.

Take care until next time

Love and light

Shelly xo

How do you do it?

image by jevigar

I am often asked, “How do you do it?” when it comes to my life of studying. To be honest I have no idea. What I do know is that I am managing somehow even if the eyes are heavy and shaded with black and bags have become extra luggage on my face.

I think the idea of doing something like studying while you are a single parent, working, plus dealing with all other challenges of life is daunting and almost an impossible concept. I came to the decision to study after being unemployed for a long time. I felt I was at a roadblock and to be able to move forward, I had to either work fulltime (which was not an option at this stage of my life) or look at alternatives to create a more financial, stable and satisfying life for me and my son. Some of my goals which assisting in the pursuit of studying was to finally see the back of Centrelink, to create a comfortable life and to feel I am able to move forward and be successful in my chosen career.

I had no idea how the life of a student was be lived let alone one who was a single parent and working. Not many of my friends have studied at university level and really the only person close to me who had done something similar was my Mother when I was younger and she too was a single parent. Certain questions I was asking myself before taking on the study was; “how am I going to afford this”, “how am I going to manage my time”, “will I fail as a Mother if I undergo studying at the same time as being a parent and working” to name a few. I had to bite the bullet and live without fear…I enrolled into University.

Research is paramount in finding the right option for you. I found Open Universities Australia (OUA) the best option at the time as this decision allowed me to study via distance, offered flexibility, and I was able to keep working while creating my future. There are other institutions that offer distance learning and may work better for you. I called Centrelink as I am on a Single Parenting Pension to see if there was any aid available which there was although a very small amount. It all helps towards ongoing costs such as text books, printing, Internet usage, stationary and so on.  I was able to gain assistance with the university fees from Fee Help obtainable through Centrelink where they also offer other forms of support for anyone looking at further education and training.

I had the financial side of things covered for now and so began the workings out of how to actually do this while keeping some form of  ‘normality’. I do have to admit I feel and have felt major disadvantages in choosing this path as certain parts of my life

image by weddingbycolour

have suffered.  My mental state at times has been very low and I have to dig deep to rise up and keep the motivation going. My love life has suffered as there really isn’t any time to invest in finding the right person. My weight and health has suffered quite dramatically at times due to the lifestyle and I often find I am suffering severe sleep deprivation.  The other person affected by my choice of studying is my son. I feel my son now understands (I think) why I am doing all this and trust me with my choice to study, yet I know I will never get the times back that I have missed.

I suggest to maintain some form of order and routine, keep a diary or calendar marking it  clearly when assessments are due along with other important date. You defiantly must be strong in saying “NO” to social outings and other distractions when you have a deadlines. Read texts and lecture notes when and where you can.  You can find time to study while traveling on public transport, watching the kids while doing their sports, at the doctors in the waiting,and of course when the kids go to bed. Something I still need to learn and doubt I will before the end of my degree is to get decent night sleeps. I do know this will help to keep the mind crisp and sharp and for the body as a whole to cope with the lifestyle. Maintaining a ‘to do list’ is another way to assist in managing your time and each time you tick something off the list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and it all helps with the motivation.

My number one tip is to believe YOU can do it and trust in yourself – you have made the right decision.

I strongly encourage anyone considering studying to just do it! 

image by dorsetsearchdogs

I already feel the emotions of pride, satisfaction and delight that I am not only coping with my hectic schedule and somehow managing a reasonable balance but that I am actually getting great grades. I can now see light at the end of the tunnel and I am feeling quite excited about what my future holds. In my opinion, strength is a given and be motivated. Self discipline is paramount also if you are going to succeed at studying and particularly be a good parent while working. You need the strength to get you through when you hit the low points as it can knock you around a lot emotionally.  It is without doubt very important to create networks with people who are in similar positions. I personally use the social media tool Facebook which to me has been a lifesaver and my rock many times. I have made amazing friends who support and believe in me. I am truly blessed to have a fabulous family who think I am incredible along with my darling friends who are so proud of all that I am achieving. Without this support, I don’t think I could do it on my own, yet at the end of the day, it is only us that are going to make it happen…and it will happen.

You are not alone!

Do you feel the emotions of disappointment, failure, loneliness, victimisation to name just a few as you enter or live in the syndrome of single parenthood?

Do you find yourself asking, “how the hell am I going to do this”; “how am I going to find the money to survive”; “how will I ever find love again”; or “am I the only one going through this?”

The choice of raising a child on your own quite possibly is the hardest decision you will ever make and not one to take lightly.  For others this lifestyle was not a personal choice and one-handed to them by default.  Whichever way you have found yourself in this predicament, we all hold our own stories to tell, and nevertheless we live a life of similarity.

Why this Blog is for you
Do you often have questions where you feel it is impossible to find the answers? If you do, then you are like me and the road of walking as a single parent can and is daunting and quite isolating. Sadly the statistics are proving there are more single parenting families in current times than ever before. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in June 2011 just under a million homes consisted of lone parent families, and of this 83% were single mother families.   When looking at this ratio, it is obvious those of us who can feel alone know we are not and it gives more reason to have places and associations available where one can obtain relevant information.

Single parents have a duel responsibility in their households and get tired beyond belief. Compared to two-parent households, lone parents have not only reduced money but also half the adult time resources available as cited in a journal by Salome Bronnimann from The Master’s College.  Single parents try to fit everything into the day and still be available for their children’s emotional and psychological needs and doing this is a juggling act whilst maintaining some form of sanity, dignity and individualism.

Where to begin
Solo Talk SP will provide information on various issues of single parenting, relating between emotions one could feel, through to the dramas of cooking, dating and finding love. The Blog will also provide links and posts associated to organisations that exist and may supply the data you are trying to find.  Centrelink, Child Support Agency (CSA) and Relationships Australia are just the starting point in finding the answers among others who offer a variety of services which can assist you in the healing process and to help you move forward.

By following this Blog, you will be sharing in a personal journey of a single parent, while finding answers too many of your questions along the way. You will find encouragement and assurance in knowing you are not alone in the world of single parenting.

*image from dudoism