Australia’s disgusting problem: Poverty needs to be entertainment to get anyone to care 277



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Earlier in the week, I tuned into the second episode of SBS series, Struggle Street. I’d heard the hype after the last week’s episode with some people even claiming it was “entertaining” and other saying that couldn’t wait for this week’s episode. It got me a little excited – perhaps the name was misleading and perhaps the documentary was actually slightly comedic. But when I watched it I was completely shocked. It was poverty porn. It was a documentary staring into the lives of people living on welfare – some of their own reasons, some for reasons out of their hands.

This horrified me because essentially, poverty had to be framed as entertainment to make anybody care.

Most of Australia’s welfare recipients actually sit below the bread line as determined by the OECD. Those who are totally dependent on the pension are classified as living in poverty according to the OECD. Pensioners are just some of the 2.265 million Australians who live in poverty. Despite this, we very rarely talk about those who don’t live “the good life” here in Australia. We call Australia the “lucky country” and call those that live in it lucky – but are they?

Watching Struggle Street was an eye opening experience that proved those in poverty are not at all who we think.


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We saw a 21-year-old woman with her third pregnancy, smoking a bong just two months shy of giving birth and then calling for a cigarette while in labour. We saw someone living in government funding housing taking drugs and then hiding in the untidy and unkempt home when he had a home inspection only to smirk and say, “well I missed that eviction!” Then we saw a family grappling with a child on drugs and a father who had been placed on the disability pension – something that seemed to be the entire family’s income. None of these people wanted to make a better life for themselves. None of them wanted to go out of their way to give back to the community.

The other story was incredibly different. It focussed on a young man named Chris who is 22. He was placed in child services protection as a toddler due to his mother’s inability to look after him due to mental illness and drug addiction. As a result, he too suffers from a range of illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD and he admitted to having learning difficulties too. Despite this, he wants to sort out his life. He told the cameraman that he didn’t want to be on welfare. He wasn’t educated and was a troublemaker for a long time, but he’s going out of his way to turn his life around. He attended a job interview and was successful, he went to work and was an enthusiastic, young, bright man and then went on to rally his community raising funds for a Pastor who lost funding for his job.

This is the side of welfare recipients that we choose not to see. We do so little to care about those who want to make a difference in the world, simply because we lump them in with those who couldn’t care less whether or not they were a burden on the community or whether they could make a happier life for themselves.

Watching this I realised just like most other Australians around me, I have a serious problem. When I think of poverty in Australia, I choose to think about those who sponge off the welfare system and don’t want to contribute to society. I choose to think of those on drugs – making their own lives tough. Not the ones who are born into poverty and face the harsh cycle trying to break out. Not the ones who want to make their lives better. Not the ones who are trying to improve their circumstance and that of the community.

This is the problem with Australia – poverty has to become entertainment before we open our eyes to it, let alone truly understand exactly what it is and what it looks like. Channel Nine has just announced another show coming to air called Life on the Dole, showcasing the lives of those living on government money in the UK. Again, poverty porn – a real problem being disguised as entertainment just to see us give a care.

I believe that Australia has a fundamental problem and while Struggle Street has opened our eyes to it, it also gives an opportunity to band together as a country and make a positive difference to the lives of others. The question is, what are we actually going to do about it?

Tell us, do you believe that Australia’s culture stereotypes people? Do you feel that we turn a blind eye to real poverty out of convenience because of these stereotypes? Do you feel that we actually go out of our way to help others? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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  1. These people deserve better coping with their life is mind blowing instead of giving to overseas how about a gift to these wonderful Aussies please put the word out to help lets get them some help.???? Bless your honest family . C.c.

    1 REPLY
    • And what do u think these wonderful Aussies r going to do with all the money? Oh goodie more money for smokes grog and drugs!!

  2. Even this story doesn’t go far enough. Those people who aren’t trying to better themselves may not understand that there is a better way. If you come from generations of poverty and abuse you are taught from birth that only suckers and idiots work and that they will always reject you. This is the cycle that needs to be broken and overcrowded schools and tired teachers can only do so much. I know as I have tried.

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  3. What can we do?Our hands are tied.We have govt housing,charities etc and still people are poor.I grew up in this environment.Some of the poorest people were the nicest and cleanest some of them were no hopers.That is the way of the world and more hand outs and charity will not help the situation.Drugs have a huge part to play in the system also the massive amounts young women are given for having babies.Some families have 3 generations of people that have never had a job.WHY,because they are lazy and it is too easy to get charity.Remember i came from this situation and have probably seen it all.

    1 REPLY
    • Actually, independent non-biased research has shown that these ‘third-generation on welfare’ families are virtually non-existent. Yes, you’ve been conned again by a system which neither cares, nor wants YOU to.

  4. I do feel sympathy for those who genuinely struggle … but think for a moment about that word. To struggle means making a forceful effort to escape a situation and while those who make an effort deserve help, those who are more inclined to bask in welfare need to be educated. Welfare is a privilege and a means to help escape a situation. It is not an entitlement or a career choice.

    1 REPLY
    • Actually, it is not a privilege, but a right. Sir Robert Menzies himself said so, in as many words.

  5. They did not say in the show the total amount of money coming into this household from welfare— everything from baby bonuses,carers pensions, part A part B ect.,—- probably enough money to live comfortably I would imagine—- you need to look at the whole picture before donating more cash to be pissed up against the wall.

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    • And don’t forget rent assistance. Roughly they would be getting $1300+ a fortnight for the 2 of them plus other benefits. They all smoke and drink so if you are struggling something has to go. Give me a break why waste taxpayers money SBS doing this doco. We all know this is happening and you can’t blame the government on this one. These people believe it’s their right to sponge off the taxpayers.

    • They have to want to do something, no excuse for not maintaining house, picking up rubbish, mowing lawns , etc. poor people don’t always live in unkempt houses. No need for the language ,they knew they were on TV. 10 children, 18 grandchildren NOT one has a job .

    • And every one expects my heart to bleed for those wankers GET A LIFE NO SYMPATHY FOR THEM. CLEAN UP YOUR ACT THEN YOU MIGHT GET SOMEWHERE.

    • Yep our thoughts exactly, how much money is coming into that house every fortnight. The yard was a disgrace, does not take much to have pride in the place where you live.

    • Im on a pension and after rent I end up with 400 a home is clean and tidy.when I have a rough time handling the lawns my daughter comes to help.there is no need to live in filth.mabe education is the answer I don’t know what is

    • If they don’t want to work , send them to low employment area in the country , and let someone else have a go in Sydney .

    • When I posted my previous comment I expected to get my arse kicked badly for being a cruel person lacking any empathy for my less well off Australians but reading some of the other comments on this site I am not alone—- you just can’t keep throwing good money after bad and expect a better result— these people need to be held to account by those who feed them.

    • I notice that all the girls had there nails done,not cheap,and tattoos and body piecing,also not cheap,everyone smoked,also not cheap,not to mention the drug use,we are all responsible for our own life,some people make bad choices,stop being the victim,it’s never to late.

    • One thing I thought they were very proficient at was naming all the medical mental conditions they suffered from—- no lack of education in that department—would run rings around any soft hearted phycologist and be signed off on all the conditions and some more !!!!!

  6. I don’t know the answer. Regardless of how much we help some people, they simply take what they can from those who wish to help and continue to live the same way. Desire for change comes from within a person. How we give them the desire for change is the big hurdle. But those who really want to do something with their lives, take opportunities and run with them.

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    • Far too simplistic these answers are. Very hard to get out of the cycle of poverty. Where are the jobs? The car industry has gone. Not many blue collar jobs to be found. Small business are not taking on people. Where would they need to re-locate to get a job? Many things need answering. How do you know they won’t help themselves? Sweeping statement…..where are your facts?

    • I couldn’t of said it better.

      1 REPLY
      • When you are already broke, who can afford to move to get a job. I have worked with poverty stricken teenagers and their families for years and have seen it so often. No work where they live in state housing and no affordable housing where the work is.

    • Christa Caldecott exactly… posters are saying that povety people are not taking the opportunities and runninh with them… What opportunities… exactly ????

    • And yet again my question – where does the money for smokes grog and drugs come from? I certainly couldn’t afford to do any of those things.

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      • Those in generational poverty (and even if there is “independent research” to show this barely exists, I could take you to streets where house after house is filled with examples of this) tend to live for the moment, hence spend money on things like booze, cigarettes and drugs that make them feel better in the short term. If you have no concept of “saving for the future”, why not get your nails done or get a tattoo and have some of the appearance of your TV idols? Just as those of us who are born into a particular cultural and linguistic environment have difficulties understanding the culture and language of those from a different background, those of us born into our middle class culture cannot truly conceive of the culture of those in generational poverty. Different worlds.
        I don’t know what the answer is – perhaps educating both sides of these divides about the different realities is a start. I haven’t watched “Struggle Street” but if it presented as “entertainment” it’s probably not greatly educational.
        The lack of jobs at present doesn’t help the situation for those who want to try to change their situation, of course.

    • @Kathy Mitchell…..ameliorating emotional or physical pain of addiction. Humans will do anything to deal with that. Think yourself lucky.

    • there are fruit picking jobs but no we won’t do that -i would do anything to earn some money– i could not afford to live like they do but then again not one member of our family has ever had a dole payment because we have a good work ethic [ i even dug strawberry runners and picked them at one stage when i could not get a job in my trade ] and it has showed in our kids and grand kids they also have never had a dole cheque

    • @Joyce, neither has my family & I am horrified at what I have seen on Struggle St. However, some of us are sounding very unsympathetic to these people’s plight. When you think of it, many of us are a couple of pays from financial trouble. Additionally, the older man had worked as a truck driver before his illness so we need to have more understanding I think. Y M

    • Why have ten kids?? I would have loved more babies but we just could not afford them.

      1 REPLY
      • Babies can be a relatively “quick fix” of joy too. Let alone whether some of these people might have subscribed to religious followings that deemed birth control as sinful

  7. If you think it’s right to film someone smoking a bong pregnant .. Well how desperate are you for a story.

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    • So filming this happening with their permission us wrong – but u don’t mention smoking a bong at 9 months which she has obviously been doing the entire time she was pregnant is wrong – seriously? And where do they get the money fir drugs.

    • She now has had 3 children. Disgusting – and shows her mentality – allowing them to film her smoking a bong. Hope she is charged – waste of hard working taxpayers money.

    • Apparently they took the new born from her, they took her other two children as well, at least they have a chance, she should have her tubes tied

    • It’s not desperation for a story dear it’s reality! This kind of shit happens everyday all over this country and why not film it…. It was done to emphasise the level of uneducated ambivalence to exactly what she is doing! In other words she doesn’t give a rats arse what those drugs are doing to her unborn child just as those mothers who smoke cigarettes don’t! My Druit is no different to many other so called low class suburbs in cities right around Australia. Full of people who are happy just to live on welfare and do as they please. I give credence to SBS for doing this docco it has woken a lot of people up to just what is going on in our society! I think it’s well done and has caused a storm right across the media and become a talking point over many coffee dates. That’s what it set out to achieve and that’s what has happened.

  8. The main thing is that SBS staged a lot of the scenes this is not Doco it is a partly fabricated story it does not reflect the true situation in Blacktown

  9. You would hardly call it entertainment. It was a serious doco. and I am glad I saw it. I was probably inclined to call people on struggle street bogans and be quite dismissive of them. You did notice it is not just shortage of money they struggle with? And having a positive outlook on life would be really hard if you grew up in this environment.

    3 REPLY
    • What I said is it’s not really about money at all a lot of the time. I didn’t want to have to spell it out but it looks to me as though some of them are struggling with mental health issues and they are self medicating.

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      • Thank you Jill for pointing out this aspect of self medication. Whether it is full blown mental health issues they are self medicating for, or whether it is escapism /soothing from the condition of their existence…….. How often do I hear work colleagues say they need to get over a tough day by going home to a bottle of wine? Similar human response

  10. They are simply poor and uneducated and they are in every city in Australia not just Mount Druitt. These people need help, they need especially services for youth, so they can stop the cycle. These agencies do work and if you had watched Q&A you would have heard the good results they are getting there with these kids..BUT..Abbott cut the funding so these places are shutting down. It really is a tradgedy

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    • that is great Johan BUT these kids are uneducated, without schooling they won’t get jobs, these agencies were getting them back to school and making sure they got their HSC..without that, they have no chance of ever escaping the poverty trap, and their is no guarantee small business will hire more anyway, they will probably just upgrade the business

    • Good points Leanna. I always watch Q and A so learned what the agencies did and accomplished. Very sad situation all round. Poverty is all around Australia too, not just Blacktown. Alas, the job situation is getting dire, and the small businesses will not be hiring many people despite the tax cuts for them. They will just make a bit more profit for themselves. The entire education system needs looking at too.

    • Johan do you really believe this will happen? All business people are capitalists so they will put any extra money into their own pockets first, despite what they might say to the contrary.

    • Christa the thing that really struck me about that, is that many small business are struggling , particulary farmers who are getting the mortgages on their farms foreclosed, they can’t afford to get loans to take advantage of this, many of them are maxed out to the hilt and on the point of committing suicide

    • it very easy to sit back on your behind in your snug little house with snug little life but it is not so easy to get out there and help and these people especially the kids need help..I agree with you both

    • You can’t help someone who does not want help . What you spend your money on is a choice. Continuing to throw money at these people is not helping them. Compulsory work for the Dole, compulsory school attendance, compulsory parenting classes and AA attendance etc etc, will help them to break out of this welfare thinking cycle. They also need help food choices. These are adults who make daily choices. But the choices they are making are not helping them. More money is not the answer

    • Mainstream education will not help these children. There needs to be a focus, at the classroom level, on changes in socialisation and the ability to survive and contribute. It will take some very clever professionals who are committed to the cause to marry the two, foundation blocks education with the importance of changing social habits. Monkey say, monkey do!

    • really ? I am not talking about adults, I am talking about their children and breaking this poverty trap, I bet your a Liberal voter, no concept of what is happening in the real many people have you helped of late? probably none. if you are so callous you cannot see the advantages of helping these children.I feel sorry for will be dead and long gone by the time these kids are adults and caught in the same trap

    • don’t argue with them Leanna , you can’t win every fight, and yes children should be fought for, we won on the pensions.they lost. Do what every non Liberal voter has done and get the hell out of here. they can all convince each other, in the meantime the real world goes on

    • I’m aghast at how this problem is now being changed to a political debate once again. Yes, there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. As John Laws used to say, the more money you throw at any situation, the more it grows. Keep giving money to these people and they spend it on drugs. What I saw on that show was, and I must admit to only watching some of the second part, a mother on drugs, giving her drug dependant, pregnant daughter drugs. A father to be who was a heroin addict and now on ice as well, hiding from the people who house him because he does not want to pay $1800 for damage he did to the house he lives in, watching a fairly modern television and saying he is destitute. I saw him give his girlfriend $500 and her taking off in a taxi. Not a bus, a taxi. All of this funded by tax payers, people who choose to work for their snug little houses and have snug little lives so as not to be a further burden on the working tax payer. Before you judge me, think of this. I am a tax payer. I am almost 74 and I pay those taxes based on investments I made throughout my working life. I left school at 14 years of age to take care of my baby brother so didn’t have the benefit of a good education. It is all about choices, not politics.

      1 REPLY
    • Good for you Barbara Keir, a true Aussie battler, not like those disgusting ferals on that show. No Liberal voter made them smoke that first bong or stick that first needle in their arm. Throwing more money at them will only help them buy more drugs, smokes and booze.

    • These people are and have been given choices in education and other services for years but most choose to be the way they are. I should know as i was one and now qualified in Social Work but no longer work in this industry because they choose to stay disabled. All in a nutshell. So much money has been given to many Agencies but the money mostly ends up being wasted and taken up in buildings, maitenance and huge wages from the CEO’s of the Agencies.

    • Monkey see monkey do and I’m not being insulting You need to educate the adults They need to change The kids see it they think is right No excuse for squalor Why are all these people taking drugs being allowed to live in Depth of housing houses Why does governments build large high density housing and house all disadvantaged people there It creates ghettos Unless we educate the children there will be no change but we also need to educate the parents as well No use shutting your eyes governments need to intervene I saw lots of nice houses nice gardens nice people the programmer was made to attract audiences but now it’s out something has to be done Government cuts are definitely not the answer Councilors and MP’s need to address this NOW

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