You can’t buy much with seven dollars. Maybe a large fancy frappuccino Starbucks coffee, or a sandwich. To me, $7 is nothing. I just spent $7 on a bumblebee costume for my cat. So why is this GP $7 co-payment such a big deal? Why are people so up in arms about university becoming more expensive? Or having to wait 6 months to receive financial assistance from the government?
This latest Liberal government has made me ‘check my privilege’. As much as I hate that phrase, it perfectly sums up my thought process over the last few weeks. Now by no means am I using $100 notes as toilet paper, but I’m very financially comfortable, and have been for most of my life. My financial stability is mainly provided by my parents, as I’m still living at home and only have a part time job. I pay board, and I finance all my own purchases and socialising activities. Ideally I would have liked to have moved out of home by now, but I have a debilitating physical disability which makes working full time difficult and living independently close to impossible. I am very thankful to the Australian government who has provided me with a Disability Support Pension since I was 18, and I’ve never taken it for granted.
Despite my disability, I’ve had a very privileged life. I received a $12,000 academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree, and my parents and I went halves in paying for my Honours degree, so I have no HECs debt. I physically can’t drive, so I don’t have a car or petrol to pay for (although it does cost me $30 to get to university and back every visit, but that’s a complaint for another day). I don’t have to think twice about how to pay for things I need or want. I feel guilty admitting that because I know for the majority of people in Australia, and even around the world, this isn’t the case. I’ve always known that I was lucky in this way. I don’t consider myself ‘spoilt’ as my parents have instilled a very hard work ethic in their children, and we’ve always had to work for our money. Whether that was chores when we were kids, or getting a part time job when we were teenagers (I worked around my disability as a young teenager by making and selling jewellery at the markets), we were never given money, nor did we expect it from our parents.
‘I’ve worked hard for my money’ is a sound-bite often thrown around by millionaires. Before the budget came out, I thought this about my situation too. But after listening to and reading people’s stories about how the budget drastically will affect their lives, I realise that it is absolute bullshit. How is being raised in an upper middle class family, having my university paid for, going on overseas holidays, and being at university for 6 years ‘working hard’? I’ve been given every opportunity I could want. My education has been great, and although my need for healthcare has been quite extensive due to my disability, my parents have always been able to pay for my blood tests, heart scans, hospital stays, and medication.
This is why I was initially puzzled over the uproar about $7 payments to see a GP. Why was it such a big deal? Seven dollars is nothing. It wasn’t until I started to read about the backlash that I truly considered what seven dollars might be to a single mother who only makes enough to cover rent, food and power, or a pensioner relying on government assistance to survive. Then I started finding statistics about average incomes in Australia (this breakdown helped put it in perspective: http://mattcowgill.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/what-is-the-typical-australians-income-in-2013/). Without revealing my parent’s income, I discovered I was within the top 1% of the nation. I was genuinely shocked. How had I been sheltered from this reality my whole life? I thought we were just a comfortable middle class family. I really hope that this blog post doesn’t come across as bragging or ‘poor little rich girl’, because that is not my intent. I am just attempting to explain how my privilege has blinded me from some realities in life, and how eye opening these past few weeks have been.
Being raised in such an individualistic, capitalist and classist society can really warp your view of the world. I still react to stories of poverty with ‘well why don’t you just work harder/get a better job?’. It’s deeply ingrained and I’ve only just started to question it. It’s very embarrassing to admit to myself just how privileged I am in this aspect of life, but I hope by continuing to seek out more information and people’s stories I can understand and help others to as well.