OPINION

Coronavirus job losses shine a light on cruel middle class paradox

SADDENING: The sense of superiority displayed by some Australians has been deplorable. Picture: TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock.com
SADDENING: The sense of superiority displayed by some Australians has been deplorable. Picture: TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock.com

I'M angry. But most of all, I'm disappointed. The pattern of social response to the plight of welfare recipients has been well established as cold-hearted and judgemental.

Naively, I thought an influx of 1 million-plus people into the ranks of welfare recipients as a result of this coronavirus pandemic would raise awareness of the hardship of surviving on welfare and encourage empathy in shared experiences. I was wrong.

I think time for asking us to remember our national identity, to implore you to think of our bonds of mateship, is over.

After watching Scott Morrison entreat us all to not behave like morons and declaring the decision of thousands to go to the beach when we'd been asked to stay home was "unAustralian," I'm left wondering if it wasn't actually the very embodiment of what it means to be a modern Australian.

Our carefree happy-go-lucky persona has evolved into a "don't care, it's all about me" sense of privilege and entitlement that makes me feel sick to my stomach.

How often do we have to be reminded to act "Australian" before we come to the demoralising realisation that being Australian simply isn't what it used to be: that's not who we are any more.

Every article I've read about the coronavirus supplement and jobseeker payment has attracted a deluge of comments, spewing forth vitriol and disgust at people who were already receiving welfare payments also receiving the short-term increase to the payment.

They demand to know why the existing recipients should receive the supplement when supposedly their income hadn't been affected and they would just spend it all on drugs and alcohol anyway.

As these judgemental commenters join the "dole queue," they make it clear that they are not to be confused with the "dole bludgers" because it's not their fault they lost their job. It was out of their control. So therefore, they aren't *really* welfare recipients.

Research tells us the stereotypes are inaccurate and yet they are trotted out ad nauseum.

From a psychological perspective, it is fascinating to watch.

We see previously comfortable middle class people - who never in a million years believed they'd be in need of income support because "they've worked hard all their lives" - desperately trying to maintain the "us vs them" paradigm they themselves created through perpetuating the stereotype of the dole bludger as someone who has "chosen" to "live it up" on $40/day, drinking alcohol and taking drugs. So now, as they join their ranks, they cannot reconcile the idea that they have become one of "them" and seek to create a point of difference within the system that simply isn't there.

From a human perspective, I just want to knock their heads together. Research tells us the stereotypes are inaccurate and yet they are trotted out ad nauseum.

People just cannot see themselves in the stereotype they have perpetuated and judged others for, and yet they still presume that it is one-size-fits-all for everyone else.

The government has played into this blinkered idea by suddenly recognising that the payment is inadequate when "normal" people unexpectedly find themselves without work and they rushed to double the payment so these people don't go without.

Then, when the crisis is over, and the casual hours come back and sole traders' businesses begin to open their doors, the payment will presumably plummet back to the level for the apparently less deserving folks. This entitled sense of "I'm better than you because I had a job more recently than you did, therefore I'm more deserving than you are" is cruel, inaccurate and damaging.

They are no better than someone whose position was made redundant after 10 years of service three months ago, someone who struggled to get back to work after an injury, someone who is fighting ageism, or any of the other myriad of stories that people on welfare payments have.

Every welfare recipient is an individual and has a story, and the general dismissal of their unique circumstances with the casual wave of the hand is unfathomable.

You are no better than anyone else. We all rely on our economic, social and political structures and when they crumble, so do we. "Prick me, do I not bleed?"

This paradox is the worst form of social thuggery and the entitled, privileged judgement that has seemingly now been sewn into the fabric of our national identity is a burden that we all shoulder.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au

This story Coronavirus job losses shine a light on cruel middle class paradox first appeared on The Canberra Times.