The Covid supplement lifted me out of poverty. Then it was cut and my life went back to the way it was | Melissa Fisher

As we look towards 2022 I reflect on the past year and how living in poverty not only affects me but thousands of others as well. At the beginning of 2021, I was doing well. The government had at that time increased jobseeker with the Covid supplement.

Even though some would argue the money would be wasted on drugs, gambling, alcohol or cigarettes, in my case and many others, that’s not what happened at all.

Instead, I spent the supplement on a gym membership with a swimming pool, healthy food and spending time with my dad who had stage four cancer. I had the money for transport to visit him and attend all his appointments. We made memories that now that he’s gone I will treasure forever.

I have chronic illnesses that affect my ability for physical activity but using a treadmill or exercise bike I had the support I needed to exercise and afterwards I’d go for a swim. I ate more fresh vegetables and fruit and lean cuts of meat instead of pasta, rice, bread and potatoes, everything I shouldn’t have been eating but was cheap and would fill me up and stretch a meal even further.

An amazing thing started to happen. I lost weight, my A1C lowered and for the first time, I didn’t need iron infusions. My blood tests were continuously improving. I could afford to buy medications and medical supplies and was even able to stop taking iron supplements and diabetes medications and I didn’t need to see my psychologist as often.

I felt better and started looking towards the future. I was excited at the new possibilities that improving my health would offer. I even started getting socially involved with the others at the gym. With all these changes my mental health also improved. There was less stress as I didn’t worry about being able to eat or pay for medications. I knew if an emergency happened I could cover it.

I bought a new winter coat and new clothes and shoes. I started feeling good about myself and even thought about going back to study. I became more hopeful and life didn’t feel like such a struggle. Things were looking up. I heard from other people on jobseeker that they also noticed a huge change in themselves and their circumstances had improved. Some were even able to find housing.

I could afford to meet a friend for a coffee and engage in my local community. I didn’t have to plan out when to make appointments just in case on the day I wouldn’t have money for the bus fare.

There were so many things I could do that I could list them for days, simple things most people get to take for granted and that being out of poverty created: friendships, community connections, pride, hope and better health.

Then the supplement was cut. The first thing to go was the gym membership and healthy food options. It was back to skipping meals and filling up on carbs. I put on weight and in November I was diagnosed with scurvy and malnutrition. I’m not malnourished because I eat but the foods I eat lack the vitamins I need. I’m now on vitamin and supplement tablets and am back to needing iron infusion and six weekly blood tests. My mental health went back to the way it was and I’ve had to re-engage with my psychologist, all of which is luckily paid for by Medicare.

Which makes me question how much money would be saved on Medicare if we as a nation lifted everyone out of poverty? How many more people could improve their health so they were more employable? Maybe keeping welfare so low doesn’t incentivise people to work and instead becomes an actual barrier to finding employment. Australia is a wealthy nation. Poverty is a policy choice. Maybe the question shouldn’t be how we can afford to raise people out of poverty but instead, how can we afford not to.

Melissa Fisher is an Adelaide artist and anti-poverty activist who currently relies on jobseeker to live