Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Labor for Affordable Housing" hits the road.

Yes, you guessed it. "Diary of a Desperate Houso" is just another front for the Labor Party to continue embarassing its own kind.

No seriously, DH forced herself to start attending ALP meetings out of a sense of civic duty, after the last federal election debacle. Not because she's a True Believer, but because it's a worry when what is after all the country's major political party has practically no membership and is ripe for being white-anted by the seedy end of town.

So anyway she got together with some other like-minded people she met there, all on low income, all public or private renters, to do something about the disastrous state of housing in this country. L4AH is the result, and it's intended to be a non-factional ginger group within the ALP. L4AH had its first public forum at Glebe last Sunday, and the Gang of 4 or so was well pleased with this first effort with a good turnout, and a vibrant atmosphere.

The idea behind L4AH is to keep affordable housing and the needs of low income folks highly visible on Labors' agenda, and to empower local communities to do it for themselves, And we wanna have fun too. Not just talkfests, but we want our events to be a party kind of Party atmosphere, to have young local performers show the community what they can do, we want to hear the babble of kids' voices in the background, we want people to have a bite to eat after and stay around to chat.

DH has just read The Latham Diaries and thinks it's great. Wasn't nearly as purple as the press made out, just a man after her own heart who says what he thinks in colorful language he's comfortable with. She agrees with Mark Latham's ideas about community empowerment. L4AH is part of the same social changes that shaped Mark's philosophy. Communities have to reclaim their sense of "can-do", and not be intimidated by the jargon of bureacratic power-hoarders.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Nothing to hide, nothing to lose?

Well, though DH has nothing major to hide,  her recent trauma with DoH has opened her eyes to just how much she had to lose.
She has not had dealings with the legal system before, because Australia actually used to be relaxed and comfortable before John Howard turned us into a nation of diary-dependent accountants 
She realised that under the searchlights of the legalistic gaze, her failure to recall, say,  exactly whether her last appointment with her hairdresser was in 2001 or 2002 and whether it post or pre-dated her conversation with a DOH call centre person whose name was either Bill or Steve, who may have had a slight South Australian accent, but wouldnt give a reference number ... well, it all began to take on a sinister cast. Even DH began to doubt herself. Perhaps she really had spent all the rent money on having her foils done that one time, and perhaps her life has been a sordid trail of lies fraud and cover ups ever since.
And what about her claim that she has rung the DOH 8 times in the prior 2 weeks, and they had only called back twice. How was she to prove that when she didnt have a reference number for a call that never happened.
Now compare and contrast with John Howards' situation.
He has everything to hide, but seemingly aint going to lose a thing.
We know that he knows we know that he knew perfectly well that Aussie wheat bribes were going to buy armaments that could be used to kill Aussie boys and girls in Iraq. But he just keeps stonewalling and he'll get away with it.
Lets not even talk of Kerry Packers legally robbing the Australian public of a billions in tax.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tribunal Merry-go-round

DH's case came before the CTTT Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal late last week. As is the practise landlord and tenant are sent outside for conciliation first up. The outcome was that the Department accepted exactly the same repayment offer that DH made several weeks earlier. Why? Because DH cant afford any more now than she could then.
Thus, a pointless but costly process all around for landlord, tenants, and taxpayers alike!.
The cost to DH: she is emotionally and physically drained. She lost 3 days pay while traipsing around to collect legal advice, medical certificates and testimonials from employers, financial counsellors, and community leaders.
Her employers lost weeks of productivity as the added stress divided her attention from a job that was already straining her capacities to their limit.
Her employers' long-suffering clients suffered a delay in the services her organisation provides them.
Her confidence got a shake-up too - in collecting medical certificates about her mental state,  she began to wonder if she wasnt mentally ill after all, though she believes she simply has carer's stress: lack of family support, and financial stress from an income that increasingly will not stretch to fit the cost of all the privatised social services that used to be a right in this country - especially medicare,  school dental services, and community health centres which provided low cost preventative support.
The documentation DH painfully collected was never viewed by anyone. What a waste of all the outstanding work Nicole, her impressive young advocate from RLC did to build her case!.
DH has now heard from a number of sources that the bulk of the Tribunal's work is simply to be used by the DOH to put the frighteners on people like herself. What a waste.
Anyhow DH will pay the arrears from money she had put aside to repair and register her 1984 Toyota. So what the State wins from the housing department, it will lose from the RTA, her mechanics taxes, increased strain on the PBS and medicare.
DH has heard a worrying rumour that the department wants to reverse the onus so that tenants served with an eviction notice have to summons the Department rather than the other way around. If this is the case, it would seem to be an even worse injustice for people who are already the least savvy section of the community.
Why the hell wont the Department invest in a decent web/ phone based income reporting scheme, drop the rents back  to their former level, and stop putting tenants, employers, the tribunal, and their own long-suffering CSO's into a costly and counterproductive merry-go-round?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fw: Policy failure


DH attended a great training course, Housing Issues and Policy  run by Shelter NSW yesterday , and can now talk the talk and frame the discourse. Or as every Sociology 101 student knows from C. Wright Mills -  "personal troubles are public issues". And oh boy, does DH have personal troubles!  And does Australia have public issues aplenty, or what???


So lets look at the ideological policy inputs.  and the output: DH's incipient nervous breakdown.


Dont be fooled by the sense of humour. DH used to be an inoffenseive depressive, but the strains of life have pushed her towards bipolar disorder. The persona of DH is the manifestation of the upside of the cycle, So what the government hopes to save by putting her through an eviction,  society is already paying for by increased medical bills, increased pharmaceutical bills, hours lost at work, sick pay, stress leave.


Policy inputs:


·                 Federal government ideological commitment to market forces. Public Housing funding to States drastically reduced.

·                 State government forced to restructure public housing. Moribund Labor Party lacks will and imagination to support its traditional base - workers, battlers, the people who care about social justice.

·                 Failure to invest in streamlining administrative procedures
Antiquated income reporting scheme penalises the increased number of people like DH who work variable hours.
Failure to invest in phone or web-based income reporting means that workers are already in rent arrears by the time the paper-shuffling has stopped. This is how DH fell into arrears, folks. 

·                 Inadequate Carers pension create poverty trap for families of people with disabilities, stress, and psychological problems

·                 Labor abandons its platform on housing affordability, and lifts rents to 30% of gross income, and then whacking on a water bill levy. Thus forcing working tenants like DH into housing stress.

·                 Funding cuts to community sector means workers like DH in community organisations are doing the job of 2 people. More stress.

·                 Combination of stresses leads to mental health problems.

·                 Mental health funding crisis. State government cancels free counselling services.
DH lost the counsellor who was one of the cornerstones of her stability.


Personal outcomes for DH


·                 Eviction notice.

·                 Loss of days of work visiting doctors and psychiatrists and financial counselling services and legal services in search of documentation to provide to tribunal

·                 Anxiety about homelessness - work productivity practically zero - disabled child picks up stresses - amplifies them and feeds them back to DH increasing stresses further.

·                 Increased medication .

·                 Increased psychological pain

·                 Inability to keep working


Or as C Wright Mills said in the Sociological Imagination way back in the 1950's


“Public issues as well as many private troubles are described in terms of ‘the psychiatric” – often in a attempt to avoid the larger issues and problems of modern society (manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies): and to push drugs”


Costs to the nation


  • Housing crisis 
  • Lost productivity
  •  Pharmaceutical bill to foreign drug companies 



DH could go on, but has to get to work sometime soon… just as soon as her pills kick in

Thursday, March 02, 2006

DH Carer's Pension cancelled.

If it wasn't enough that DH is facing eviction proceedings, she has now had her carer's pension cancelled. Why? Because she cannot make ends meet unless she works more than 15 hours a week. To qualify for Carers Pension you need to work less than 25 hours a week. And then just when you think you can somehow do it a stretch, you discover almost by accident that in fact its less than that because Centrelink wants to know exactly how many hours you take to travel to work so that they can delete that from your allowable hours. With the traffic snarls in Sydney, it takes DH 1 hour each way, or 10 hrs a week in Sydney buses. Once again, Centrelink and DOH act in tandem to pincer Carers.

Take a look at DH's CV to the left of this column. She is hardly a welfare bludger and gives back a hell of a lot more than she gets both in her underpaid job, and as a volunteer. Over the years she has saved taxpayers a fortune in services for carers that they didnt have to provide because she did it all herself while managing to work fulltime, acquire an honours degree, be a volunteer and a community activist.

Let us be perfectly blunt. If society is not prepared to foot the additional bill for disabled children, mandatory abortion of suspect foetuses would be far more efficient and less hypocritical.

Yet the system manages to wrongfoot and almost criminalise her about a bill for approximately $2000. While DH has to endure verbal abuse from a low-ranking and dysfunctional public servant who has the power to treat her as if her only aim in life was to cheat the Department of Housing of 2 weeks rent, Kerry Packer just got a state funeral for not paying any tax on his billions, and for his services to that neediest of social groups, wealthy obese old rogue males. (who else needs those ambulances with their expensive defibrillating gizmos?)

To be fair, some of this is simply because the system does not recognise or understand the hidden costs of Autistic Spectrum Disorders and how they affect a life trajectory in work and welfare.

Fortunately, DH is an incurable change-agent, and she feels a PhD coming on.

Who needs money and secure housing anyway, as long as you have an interesting life?