A disabled single mum-of-three claims she’s been forced to steal food to provide for her anorexic daughter after JobKeeper benefits were slashed last month.
Narelle*, 44, from Pakenham in south-east Melbourne, suffered two strokes in September 2017 that left her permanently disabled and unable to work.
After being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and aphasia – a speech impairment – Narelle relied on Jobseeker benefits to survive during the pandemic.
‘During Covid the government gave everyone on Centrelink benefits a taste of what it’s like to live,’ she told 7News.
A disabled single mum-of-three is forced to steal food to provide for her anorexic daughter (pictured) after JobKeeper benefits were slashed last month.
Narelle said it’s a ‘constant pressure’ seeing her daughter ‘so skinny, and not feed her fruit or vegetables’ as she only weighs 36kgs
She said the benefits made her feel like she ‘was part of society’ and helped her save up $4,000 for emergencies.
Her payments went from $350 a fortnight to $885 during the pandemic, before dropping back down to a new low of $330.
‘How dare the government give a sense of importance or some glimpse of a sustainable life and then just take all that money away and make us live like peasants again,’ she said.
The mother says she is now only left with $20 per fortnight for food to feed her 18-year-old daughter who is recovering from anorexia.
Despite her beloved daughter weighing just 36kgs, Narelle said it’s a ‘constant pressure’ seeing her daughter ‘so skinny, and not feed her fruit or vegetables.’
In a desperate attempt to feed her family, Narelle was caught stealing bananas, milk, bread, washing detergent, shampoo and conditioner for the two of them last month.
She said the store let her off with a warning but did not want to ‘make it a habit of stealing food to eat.’
The mother is now only left with $20 per fortnight for food to feed her 18-year-old daughter who is recovering from anorexia, who at times only has a piece of bread for meals
‘I feel really ashamed doing that, it’s so shameful, it’s embarrassing,’ she said.
The mother-of-three said to save money she only eats one meal a day – a single doughnut and three to four $1 7-Eleven coffees.
‘Either that, or I eat noodles or baked beans or go without,’ she added.
The 44-year-old said she doesn’t know how she’ll continue feeding her daughter as the cupboards are ‘looking bare’.
Between herself and her 18-year-old daughter, Narelle has only $120 in savings and the pair receive additional payments from Centrelink and $50 per month for child support.
Her two older daughters aged 24 and 26 are unable to help.
Despite her ongoing struggles, Narelle’s application for the disability support pension was rejected in March.
Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen said they are unable to discuss individual cases but they have contacted the customer to ensure she’s receiving all available support.
‘We appreciate this is an extremely difficult situation for the customer and her family,’ Mr Jongen said.
‘We recognise medical conditions can have a significant impact on people’s lives, however, we do not have any discretion to grant payments outside the very clear criteria set down in legislation.’
‘We encourage anyone experiencing financial hardship to contact us.’
‘We have social workers and specialist staff to assist people in vulnerable or complex circumstances.’
A Department of Social Services spokesperson said that during the pandemic they have stood side-by-side with all Australians and their permanent arrangements continue to make good on that commitment to supporting Australians as they look for work.
‘On 1 April 2021, the Australian Government provided the single biggest year on year increase to the rate of unemployment benefits since 1986 – an increase of 9.7 per cent increase between 1 April 2020 and 1 April 2021,’ a spokesperson said.
‘The Government has put permanent policy settings in place that support Australians to seek work as the economy continues to reopen and we see positive indicators of economic growth.’
‘Our working age payments system strikes the right balance between support for people while they look for a job and incentives to work while ensuring the sustainability of our social security safety net.’
*Name was changed for privacy reasons
The 44-year-old said for her meals she sometimes only has one doughnut per day and 7-Eleven coffees (pictured)