This post explores the idea of individual responsibility and the role of society in the face of hardship.
At some point, we will all weather our own winter. I don’t mean seasonal winter which comes around each year, but our personal winter. A time of darkness and retreat that is prompted by any number of life experiences, like illness, relationship breakdown or natural disaster.
Like the squirrel who hoards acorns over autumn or the bear who gorges in preparation for hibernation, we are often served best by our actions ahead of the storm.
Recently, a mama in the MGM community reached out to tell me of her cancer diagnosis. In the midst of the devasting prognosis, she said she was comforted by the stories and support she had felt when in Circle.
Often an emergency prompts action, neighbours meet for the first time, and communities rally to provide food and shelter for those affected. We are reminded that at any time, we too may need the support of friends and strangers in ways we have never imagined.
In Western society, we have been fed the false expectation of independence. There is an idea that we can work hard and smart enough not to need support. People who access social security in this country are painted as ‘dole bludgers’. But as the name on the box suggests, welfare payments are a safety net; they provide for the welfare of our fellow humans.
The welfare state came about after the Second World War when service people returned to their communities devasted and unable to commit to traditional work. Their shellshock and lame limbs made it difficult to carve out a living. At this time, people were offered grace and understanding, and it was acknowledged we are only as strong as our weakest link.
“SOCIAL SECURITY IS NEITHER SOCIALIST NOR CAPITALIST.SIR WILLIAM BEVERIDGE (1944, BRITAIN)
IT IS SIMPLY COMMON SENSE”
Neoliberalism has come to replace the welfare state. The neoliberalism ideology suggests the market can take care of our needs, and individuals can manifest the solutions they seek. The grace we once offered our fellow human beings has fallen by the wayside, as we’ve been set up as competitors rather than comrades.
Our Federal Labor government recently released a budget that left people on welfare living below the poverty line, despite years of campaigning by sector representatives as diverse as the Red Cross to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).
Neoliberalism has delivered ill-gotten gains for some, at the cost of the many. Precarious work is rife, including in the civic institutions we rely on to provide evidence and advice to help us navigate the big, wicked problems, institutions like universities and public administration.
We saw the danger associated with insecure work when a casually employed pizza maker drew the anger of the state, for their role in spreading the virus in the early days of lockdown. It was only after they had been persecuted in the press that we reflected about why a low-paid, insecure worker may attend multiple jobs when unwell.
Recently there was an opinion piece in our local media about what women want from politics. There were many worthy examples highlighted, including the need for childcare to support paid workforce participation. However, what I saw in the gaps of this analysis was an intersectional perspective that acknowledged the pitfalls of relying solely on paid workforce participation for financial security.
Early findings from Dr Rachael Potter’s work and discrimination survey confirm the anecdotes I’ve heard about the discrimination and hostility mothers face when they return to the paid workforce. The themes reflect the statistics from other investigations undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission that found, “One in five mothers have been made redundant, restructured, dismissed, or their contract was not renewed because of their pregnancy, when they requested or took parental leave, or when they returned to work”.
For many mothers in the paid workforce, the weight of carrying the ‘double shift’ of care and work is so much they experience burnout so severe they are left unable to leave their bed. Since the 1970’s more women participate in the paid workforce, but their care and household commitments have not decreased. ABS data shows mothers still do double the amount of household and childcare work that fathers do.
Studies show with less time available, mothers forgo leisure, and the leisure they do have is of lower quality. Time inequalities are linked to health inequalities, as there is less time to rest, exercise and recover. In our current culture of motherhood, our mental and physical health deteriorates as our children grow. Rather than motherhood being the positive transformational experience that I believe it has the potential for, too many mothers find the competing devotions of modern motherhood lead to burnout and depression.
As I dig further into the available research while I gestate my matrescence and public policy thesis, I become less convinced about the panacea of “full-time work!”. I am more interested in creating a new social contract that doesn’t require anyone to sacrifice their physical and mental health, and outsource all care, to ensure financial security.
This is why I advocate for structural change and get behind campaigns like Raise the Rate because any one of us is only a few paychecks away from poverty. Already many are struggling, with one in eight people in Australia currently living in poverty, as cost of living pressures increase.
I believe our winters wouldn’t feel so dark if we knew there was a safety net broader than the goodwill of friends and strangers.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
If you can support our MGM mama Adri with her cancer treatment, please donate to the GoFundMe her friends have set up here.