How Berkeley mum survives on Newstart

On Tuesday mornings Kathryn Bullard wakes with one thing on her mind: the supermarket catalogues.

She collects them as soon as they hit the mailbox, then pores over their contents.

If you're going to live on the dole, Ms Bullard says, you've got to know the specials.

"I study [the catalogues]," she said.

"I can't just go to one shop, I go to all three - Woolworths, Coles, Aldi - for different things. You've got to really take care of how much you're spending and think about what you need."

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Ms Bullard, 30, of Berkeley, was bemused to hear Families Minister Jenny Macklin respond "I could" this week, when asked if she could live on the Newstart allowance of about $38 a day.

The minister, who earns more than $6300 a week, made the comment at a press conference on Tuesday while defending the government's cuts to single-parent benefits - a saving measure that will leave about 80,000 parents up to $223 a fortnight worse off.

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Ms Bullard receives the Newstart allowance plus family tax benefit payments - about $15 a day - towards the care of her three children, who live with her for five nights a fortnight.

The family's once-monthly takeaway and Ms Bullard's cigarettes are among the few cases of non-essential spending and are, she said, the first items cut out if the budget won't stretch.

There is never money left to save.

Ms Bullard regards a $20 haircut as a luxury and buys her clothing from Kmart, Big W and op-shops.

She said she hated debt but sometimes borrowed $10 or $20 from her mother.

She would "do anything to get a job" - ideally in retail - but has had only knock-backs after more than 14 years out of the workforce and 12 months on the job trail.

A volunteer with the scouting movement and at Warrawong's House of Hope Food Barn - where she also shops for discounted pantry items - Ms Bullard believes it is getting harder to live off welfare.

The suggestion is supported by Anglicare Community Care's Illawarra regional manager Andrew Stratford, who said the Newstart allowance had not kept pace with the growing cost of essentials.

"Flatscreen TVs, alcohol and travel are getting cheaper, but things like utilities, reasonable housing, transport and food - all of those elements of day-to-day living are becoming more expensive," he said.

"From what we see it's becoming increasingly difficult and it's becoming a bit of a trap.

"People on [Newstart] spend all their resources, all their time and energy, just trying to survive, so there's no room for professional or vocational development."

LIVING ON THE DOLE - Kathryn Bullard’s weekly household budget

INCOMING

Newstart - $265

Family tax benefit payments - $108

Work for the dole incentive payments - $20

TOTAL: $393

OUTGOING

Electricity - $40

Gas - $30

Rent - $68 

Food - $80-$120

Mobile phone - $7.50

Petrol - at least $20

Cigarettes - $30

Car insurance - about $11

Scouts fees - $10

Takeaway - about $6.50 ($25 monthly)

SUBTOTAL: $303-$343*

* Does not include the cost of clothing, shoes, medicine and specialist medical appointments, haircuts, one-offs like washing machine repairs, dog and cat food, car service, car repairs and registration.  

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