Xpress  Y R S E L F     JUNE 2002

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HOW  CENTRELINK

DROVE  ME   MAD

by Amy Anderson

I am a woman in my mid to late 30's. in mid-1997, I was mysteriously and wrongfully dismissed from a job I had been in since 1993

I applied for Newstart, and when I was given it, the woman at Centrelink wrote, as if picking a number out of a hat, that I had to apply for 8 jobs a fortnight. This meant that I applied for jobs that i didn't want to and wouldn't normally apply for. At that stage, 8 jobs a fortnight was such a heavy burden, that I was willing to accept any work, even work which I had ethical problems with, just to get Centrelink off my back.

Later, when I explained the problem to the same woman at Centrelink, she said I didn't have to APPLY for 8 jobs, I just had to have 8 contacts with  employers, even though she quite clearly said APPLY the first time.

So I applied for and accepted a job in a 

 

call-out centre, where I was given some training. during the training, it was explained that the work was legal. `Legal", I thought, but not ethical.

I knew how much I hated having my privacy invaded by people ringing me at home to ask irrelevant questions about various goods or services that I wasn't interested in. In fact, as soon as I told some of my friends about it, the first thing they said was `don't ring me.'

I lasted about a week. As the week progressed, things became weirder and weirder.  On almost the first day, one of the other `callers' insulted me about my name. then, one phone call I made was weird in a way that is too difficult to describe here. 

As it is difficult to relate to people at the best of times with a mental illness, making cold calls to sometimes hostile people, about Whitegoods is not easy. Also, the travelling and time commitment caused me stress, and with all the other problems I was dealing with, as I remember I collapsed in a heap and went on sickness benefits.

Around the same time, I would go back to my previous employer and ask for more work. He'd say aggressively that I could work full-time, which I would attempt, but only last two or three days into the first week, before i'd start to feel like I was going CRAZY

Each time I got work, I'd go off Newstart. Then I'd collapse and have to go on to Sickness Benefits. When I had only marginally recovered, i'd go back on Newstart and have to look for work again.  This went on for about six months as I remember. 

      MORE PAIN ....

It was a painful process - dealing with Centrelink staff was very painful. I experienced most of them as aggressive and uncaring. 

I was doing a little bit of tutoring, as well as volunteer work, so I would put that on the dole form each fortnight. the question was ` did you do any volunteer work APPROVED by Centrelink in the last fortnight?".  I wrote that I had done some at a hospital. 

 

They never disputed it, so i assumed they approved of it. so each time I had done the work, I wrote it on the form, and never had any problem with centrelink about it. After some months of this, I received a letter from Centrelink stating that they thought it would be more appropriate for me to be on a Disability Support Pension.

Part of the reason i was having health problems was the difficulties I was having with Centrelink. Whilst on the pension, doing a few odd jobs, in which I had to sign a tax form, it would be hard to keep track of them, so I would receive aggressive letters from Centrelink saying I had not declared employment or earnings.

i would often be given a short deadline before which to reply, with the threat of being cut off if i didn't. It is like having to deal with the tax dept. every few days, all year round. However, being given the pension, was a huge relief compared to the previous situation, and it gave me space to heal.

I had to attend a couple of interview with Centrelink doctors. I always took someone with me, because I found the doctor's questions invasive, aggressive, and hard to answer. I would not know the doctor beforehand, and the first doctor in particular showed a marked misunderstanding of the `illness'.

In one interview, I said that dealing with Centrelink was one of the factors causing 

me stress. After the third interview, they sent me the letter saying I could be on the Pension for five years. that was even better, because it meant i didn't have to attend another doctor's interview for at least four years. that space would help with the healing process. 

A major factor in the healing process was being given the space not to have to work, by going on the pension.  Being given it for five years is something that, if it continues, will allow me to heal substant-
ially more. It is not just that I don't have to work in a 40 hour a week office job. 

It means I have the freedom to explore a bit more, to have greater choice and control over what I do with my time. Also, importantly, it means that I don't feel forced to have to do work to have to work when I desperately need to rest.

 However, if I am forced to got back on to Newstrat, and do work-for-the-dole, even for 15 hours a week, it would reate a major set-back in the positive process which has been happening. 

I am not a bad person. I have a conscience, and am making genuine and consistent efforts to improve my health, as well as to make a positive contribution to the community as a way of , if you like, "earn my keep". I am very grateful for the space the pension has allowed me, and am ever hopeful of returning to some sort of work. 

Perhaps I will eventually become self -
supporting again. But if I am forced to seek this before I am ready to, I can only 
foresee more troubles like those I have already described. No doubt I would deal with it, as I have always attempted to do, and I would have more resources to do that than I had then.

However for people who are still in the very vulnerable early stages of the illness, or in the chaos, anguish and trauma of it at its worst, I can see nothing but very serious trouble. They will suffer deep pain and trauma, and major problems - which are contributed to by a system that was set up to help people, not harrass them .

Rather than being allowed to be at home without being harrassed to look for work or forced to do work-for-the-dole, many of these people are at risk of having to go back into psychiatric hospitals. In my experience, most of these are not places of healing. For one thing it can be very expensive to be in hospital.

It is a place where a lot of unhealthy people are grouped together, and often inappropriate medications, or levels of the same, are prescribed. These can impede recovery. Unless a person is very lucky and finds a doctor who genuinely cares and understands (rather than simply pry into personal matters) things will only get worse.

Also, a lot of people with mental illness have been moved out of boarding house  

with share kitchens, which (sometimes illegally) backpackers are taking over. They are then put into single units by the Housing Commission - including within highrises or similar impersonal buildings. What is happening to our society?

______________________________

   EDITORIAL

The above true story  gives us an idea
of what will happen if the Howard Government introduces a 15 hour a week "work test" to the Disability Pension - as it has threatened to do in the recent budget.

We would be interested to hear more from people on the Disability Pension about how it may effect  you. Our postal address at the Embassy is on the front page of this Website. We hope to get an email address going soon (we already have one that we have to check out).

 MORE TO COME IN THIS ISSUE 

 

A NEW ISSUE ABOUT PERSECUT-
ION BY CENTRELINK AFTER
THE FOLLOWING BACK ISSUE

 

 

PREVIOUS  "XPRESSYRSELF"     AUGUST 2001

 TICKET TO HIDE !  

Hassles in a day in the life of a person suffering
from mental illness.

A trip on the bus.

The bus driver is working for his money, but
I'm not, so I could pay the full fare on the bus,
buy a travel-ten ticket , or I could buy the

                $1.10 ticket!!!!!!

Therein lies the problem.  Most bus drivers
validate the ticket for you.  To a sensitive
person, this means that because I don't
have an obvious physical disability:

a. the bus driver probably thinks I have
    mental illness, and

b. because they've seen him validate the
    ticket, so do the rest of the people on
    the bus, and

c. they're probably thinking `what a
    bludger - why doesn't she get a job
    like the rest of us!'

All in a simple bus ride!

The other day, I asked if I could validate
the ticket myself. He said aggressively
"do it yourself' - so I did - for the first time.


It was a small step for me, but a big 
step for pensioner-kind.

One day, there was a brilliant driver
who had pre-validated a whole
bunch of tickets

Another thing - those gaudy blue tickets
with the huge arrow on them - the
people on the bus see them, and
automatically know you're on the
pension.

If the ticket design was changed
regularly, like postage stamps, people
couldn't keep up with them, and it
would help.

Signing off for now,

yours, Diddly Middle.

 

         HEAR HERE

The city wears a cacophanous face:
Courage is necessary to brave the place:
Police sirens sound like devils
in the night and wake
The troubled sleeper in fright;

Helicopters passing overhead
increase the longing to return to bed
An ambulance races screaming
down the street,
Hell is freezing compared
to Redfern heat.

A madman fills the ear
with horror of insanity:
The churches murmer prayers
for peace and sanity,
A currawong flies calling
in the dark for rain
sharing strangers in humanities pain.

At dawn the piercing horns
of the long distance trains
set out to travel
through stationary brains;
Buses full of suffering stop still
then groan again:
patient strangers strive to achieve their individual ends:

Traffic injuries follow
screeching crashes,
But there are few mourners
for a pile of ashes
Gunshots can be heard in the
still fear of the dark:
But in the light the sight is tranquil with the beauty
of the park:

Alarming fire engines
whose redness rivals fire
hasten slowly blasting warning
dire, church bells ring
joyfully, that two lovers
now are wed:
Next day the solemn tolling
tells that someone else is dead

An aboriginal couple argue loudly
in the street,
"Don't f...g tell me what to do!"
she shouts at him in the heat.
"Nobody's perfect , mate,"
the uncle lies while his kid cries,
Welfare's progeny grow up
fractious, strident. wild.

Aircraft thunder overhead:
hell's in heaven, it's sad:
the sad and the mad here
intermingle neither living
nor dead:
poverty yells in anger,
struggling to escape
the nameless dread.

Irrational conflicts, illwill,
bad feelings trouble
brainlessheads;
carloads of rowdy youths
whose minds are ruled by fear
heartlessly abuse their victims;
evil triumphs here.

Redfern wears a cacophanous face
magnanimity is necessary to
brave the place.

                by CHRIS RATH

_________________________

  EDITORIAL

The magazine project first
ran in 1990 for about six months of monthly issues
during a welfare course
placement at a well known
mental disabilities organis-
ation.

As well as editing this
magazine I devised, I ran a
successful Talent Nite for
them. They still show copies of the initial run of the magazine to new people doing placements.

SEND CONTRIBUTIONS
TO "Xpress Yrself" mag
PO Box A360 Sydney
South 2000.
See it online
at XpressYrself@ geocit-
ies.com/unemployedemb-
assy

   

new issue "Xpress Yrself"  building here  -     december 2002

  HOWARD'S  TAX ON SEX

Centrelink's policy on Reduced Income for pensions for couples seriously makes low income earners discouraged to have permanent relationships because of extra financial hardship                                   by Joan Blackmore      

As a single person, without dependants on a full disability or old age pension, I would get $357.30 per fortnight. If I married or had a defacto relationship with another person on a full disability pension (or old age pension also) we would get $298.40 per fortnight.

Our income is reduced, Sex would cost us $58.90 each per fortnight!

 
   
   
   
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