When Centrelink makes you cry
The title says it all. It doesn't have to be like this.
Find out how the very government department that is supposed to be supporting people with disabilities, made me someone with a disability, feel like a complete imposture and failure.
You can ask Peta a question for a future episode of the podcast via:
The website: www.icantstandpodcast.com
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast. Your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. This one is a bit self-indulgent. I've got to say, but I've decided I've got to tell you what's been going on. I have been in a little bit of a disagreement with a little place called Centrelink. If you'd like to send in a question for me to answer for a future episode of the podcast, you can do it in three ways. One. You can send me a DM on Instagram. My handle is @petahooke. You can send me an email. My email address is The I Can't Stand Podcast.com. Or you can send me a message directly through my website, which is The I Can't Stand Podcast dot com. All the links will be in the description. OK? Without any further ado, let's get into it.
[00:01:23] Today, I'm talking about Centrelink. For those of you who aren't in Australia listening today, Centrelink is our Social Security here in Australia. Full disclosure, I gained Centrelink and I have been getting Centrelink since I was three when my relationship started with Centrelink. It was not means-tested. I gained a disability pension just because of my disability and I have been on Centrelink since that day. All these examples I'm about to explain to you are from my experience only. The only real way that I get notified that I need to go see Centrelink is via a letter. Yes, that's somewhat inconvenient and a bit archaic in this day and age, but the majority of the time these letters have arrived in my letterbox. The letter does not arrive before the time that I'm required to see Centrelink. And when I say required, I truly mean required. It feels like I've been naughty somehow. Being called into the principal. There's no flexibility with times or dates. Centrelink just selects a random time or date. And if you have work on that particular day. You have to get time off. And as I said, there's no flexibility, so it's really awkward having to go to your boss when I had one and say, look, Centrelink or requesting, I go at this particular time tomorrow or next week if you're lucky. And you just have to go regardless. Otherwise, you get threatened with losing your pension.
[00:03:28] So earlier this year, I got one of those letters and I went into Centrelink and they told me that I now had something called a mandatory task on my file. It was explained to me like it would be an opportunity for me to grow my small business. I would be able to find organisations to network with me and this would be done through a job seeker service that they used for people who are unemployed and seeking work. I didn't see any problem with this idea, because of course, I want to grow my business every opportunity I get, any time to network or meet new people. I'm always, always up for. So I wasn't annoyed or upset. I was actually quite excited. And for once, I felt like Centrelink were on my side wanting me to succeed. So the mandatory task was not a networking opportunity, but rather a requirement of Centrelink for me to apply for employment. The reality was that Centrelink didn't consider me to be self-employed. And because of that, as a default, I was considered unemployed and required to apply for jobs. You can imagine how upsetting that sort of sentiment is when you're working as hard as I am, as passionately as I do in an area that I love to work with. I thought there's got to be a mistake. Surely I've just got to fill out a form and they'll recognise my business as a business and that I'm not unemployed. I rang Centrelink to try and clear up this mess.
[00:05:34] For any of you that have had the pleasure of ringing Centrelink, you know, it's not an easy process. Most of the time you're on hold for more than an hour, and when you do get to speak to someone, they've never spoken to you and they don't know your story. So every time I call Centrelink, I have to start from the very beginning. Hi, my name is Peta. Here's my address, here's my date of birth. Here's my Centrelink number. I'm calling because I've been told that Centrelink considers me unemployed despite me running my own small business. This person said in order for you to keep your Centrelink pension, you'll be required to apply for eight jobs a month. I told this person that I did not have the capacity nor the capability to apply for jobs and run my own business. The person on the other end of the line said, Well, you have to give up your small business if you want to maintain your disability pension. I pleaded with this person on the other end of the line and said, but I have a contract with Nova Entertainment. My podcast is completely legitimate. And just because I don't have a consistent wage does not, not make me employed. That's the nature of running a business. Some weeks you earn more money than others. It's just part of it.
[00:07:30] It was clear that this person was just reading from a script. They were just following protocol. Ticking a box. Another example of me not fitting into the tight constraints. But the government and the whole of society put in place for people with disabilities. You can probably guess that I was quite upset when I ended the call. In actual fact, I was pretty distraught, to be honest. To me, it was just such a triggering experience that the low expectations of people with disabilities just continues on. Taking the initiative and starting her own business as a disabled person isn't rewarded. It's instead met with suspicion. Like, I'm not actually working doing nothing every day. It's really insulting to be tarred with the same old brush. You have a disability, and therefore you should do X. And we think you only have the ability to do X. So what happened after that phone call? I wrote a six-page letter, addressed it to Centrelink and uploaded it to my profile, outlining all the things in writing that I had achieved up until September 2021. I also filled out a profit and loss statement and failed at a business form that they required of me.
[00:09:14] In the meantime, I was still required to go to these job meetings. Thankfully, the person that's supporting me through this process at the Job Centre understands that I don't want to get another job. I've also written to my state minister and the federal minister for Services Australia. I have had some polite emails from the state minister's office, but I have to say the Federal Minister's Office. Linda Reynolds was a disaster. Now, I'm not saying Ms Reynolds even knew that I sent him a letter. Of course not. She's a busy, important person. But someone on her team rang me. It was clear she had not read any of the supporting documentation, I'd sent my email and she thought I didn't understand why Centrelink was required me to get a job. I understand it's because you don't recognise my small business as a business. Once we'd established that, I understood she was very confused as to why I'd written the letter. I said well. I wouldn't be doing my job properly as a disability advocate if I wasn't bringing to you the sort of problems that people with disabilities face. By the very organisation that Ms Reynolds represents. Her team member basically wish me luck and hung up.
[00:11:03] I'm waiting to hear back to see if Centrelink recognised me as an employed person. My jobcentre consultant rang me the other day again, I have to speak to him once a fortnight. He rang me and said, Peta. If Centrelink approved you as having a small business, best case scenario. Though. Basically, leave this area of getting a job alone for 12 months. But then I'll be back trying to explain that this is in fact a business. The other option is that Centrelink rejects my application for them recognising me as being employed. This will mean that I'll have to continually look for jobs a month, regardless of my own ambition for my own business. I have cerebral palsy, and it does affect me negatively on occasions. Running a small business is very difficult, but running a small business solely with a disability is pretty tough and pretty time-consuming. So I know that I wouldn't have the capability to look for a job and run this business as well. The crazy thing is this requirement of Centrelink for me to be quote-unquote employed only is relevant to me until I turn 35. So I've got four more years of Centrelink questioning me and treating me with suspicion in regards to my employment. While I rely on my disability pension to live because let's face it. Running a small business in COVID has been pretty challenging for most people. It's also been pretty challenging for me. I know I couldn't survive without help. But I refuse to make the hard decision and walk away from this business. So if it means that I have to give up my disability pension. I will.
[00:13:44] It's a massive, scary and quite frankly, a sacrifice that I'm not 100 per cent comfortable with, but I tell you what, I'm a lot more comfortable with that sort of sacrifice than walking away from this business. The moral of my story is. Why are people with disabilities still treated with contempt and suspicion? Why is society determined to put us into boxes too, on the one hand, encourage us to succeed, but not too much? And according to our rules and regulations, please. This is the sort of stuff that I find without doubt the most challenging about my disability. Steps are one thing. Societal attitudes are a whole nother league. I hope by sharing my story, it may encourage you to share yours because I'm fairly confident that I'm not the only one over here with very. Upsetting stories about Centrelink. And even if you've never interacted with this government department before. Try and put yourself in my shoes. Do you think the way that I have been treated is OK? Is right. And don't get me wrong, as soon as my small business gives me the ability to not rely on the pension. I will gladly, gladly give it up. But it seems. I might have to give it up a little earlier than I was anticipating.
[00:15:53] So as I said at the top of the show, there are three ways you can get in contact with me via my Instagram, which is at @petahooke by email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org or by my website icantstandpodcast.com. If you did enjoy this episode or would like to support me in some way, the best way you can do that is by rating the podcast on Apple Podcasts. Thank you for listening and until next week. Bye.