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“I am dirt poor”: reflections on poverty, homelessness and welfare

By Joey King

In light of the Government’s decision to ignore the recommendations of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee report to raise the rate of all Social Services, I have been reflecting on my life and why I bothered voting for the Labor Party in the first place.

I googled the term “dirt poor”. I know it comes from a time when people couldn’t afford to have flooring or even straw in their homes, but I wanted to see what it might mean here, in Australia. Many dictionaries said, “suffering extreme poverty” or “very poor”, but Dictionary.com states: “lacking nearly all material means or resources for living”. This resonates for me, a 54-year-old woman living in Australia in 2023.

I am part of the fastest growing demographic for homelessness and poverty in Australia. I have had a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my life and I have been living in my car around Perth and the South West of Western Australia, for the past four years. I do not have the material means or resources to secure viable safe housing or employment. I do not have choices that will help me move on from where I find myself. I do not want to be this person but cannot see a way things will change.

We are desperate and real change needs to occur – or the chasm that exists between rich and poor will continue, and ever more people will be living and dying in poverty. I am looking at least another two years before public housing becomes available. I miss meals, juggle my medication, have no social life, and wonder how I can be expected to look for employment when I might go days without a shower or have been awake all night because I’m in fear of my surroundings? I am one of the 40% of women my age who live in poverty. I am ‘dirt poor’.

I am constantly stressed, afraid and triggered. My mental health has been further destabilised because of my financial and housing situation. Women like me experience (in no particular order): uncertainty, fear, loneliness, truly being cold, vulnerability, mental and physical health decline, risk of being assaulted or being moved on by police, discrimination, judgement, assumptions you are an alcoholic or drug addict or that you chose to be homeless.

I’m not what people assume homeless people should look like, therefore not considered desperate enough to be helped. As a 53-year-old woman without children, I am the lowest priority for both government and social services – as I was informed by WA Department of Housing staff. I tell people I’m homeless and they just shrug likes it’s no big thing. I wonder: when did the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable people in this country become so dismissed? When did homelessness and poverty become normalised in people’s eyes? When did people stop caring? When did the Labor Party stop caring?

Luke Henriques-Gomes, Social affairs and Inequality Editor at Guardian Australia, wrote in 2021 that 44 homeless people have died so far this year in Western Australia. Matching data from homelessness and health services with hospital records, 255 people known to those services had died in Perth since 2017 and that was two years ago. The average age of death was 47. These people didn’t need to die. They died because they were “lacking nearly all material means or resources for living”. They, like me, were “dirt poor”.

Poverty is a choice decided by Government to keep those of us living in poverty.


From 2019:




And 2020:



Now this:




Please show us that the Labor Party has not forgotten its roots.

The factors leading to the formation of the Labor Party were:

  • The influence of socialist writers who promised a new society free of poverty and inequality.
  • The influence of English born trade unionists.
  • Nineteenth century liberalism which, in the Australian colonies, accepted that workers should be represented in the colonial parliament.
  • The presence of manhood suffrage.
  • The introduction of payment of members of Parliament in 1889.
  • The determination of the Inter Colonial Trade Union Congresses throughout the 1880s to have Labor represented in parliament by a separate Labor Party, not by Liberals or Conservatives.

Please help us by raising the rate of Jobseeker and other social service payments, so that we can afford to be a part of our community again, to afford to eat, to have the medications we need, to be treated like Australians.

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” (Thomas Jefferson).

You can listen to me speak about living on Jobkeeper on the Full Story podcast, and read more about her perspective on welfare in The Guardian.


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  1. RomeoChsrlie29

    This is deeply distressing and a sad indictment of a Prime Minister who, in Opposition, voiced the same opinion as his special committee has reached, Jobseeker is too low.

    Albanese is in real danger of demonstrating he’s more like the Tories he supposedly despises than a true Labor man. He appears to have forgotten his roots.

  2. ajogrady

    With over a trillion dollar debt Australians know that;
    The definition of a Judas betrayal is the Albanese Labor governments flawed and dangerous $400billion AUKUS deal perpetrated upon Australian taxayers.
    The definition of obscene is paying $400billion for obsolete nuclear submarines while one in six Australian children live in poverty and
    more than one in eight people (13.4%) live below the poverty line.
    The definition of cruelty is not lifting the Jobkeeper rate while Albanese Labor is spending $400billion on obsolete AUKUS nuclear subs.
    The definition of laughable is the excuse for AUKUS is to protect Australia’s trade sea routes for trade with Australia’s number one trading partner China, against China.
    The definition of insanity is going to war with Australia’s, by far, largest trading partner that will cripple Australia’s economy while destroying Australian living standards and impoverish Australian’s quality of life.
    The definition of unconscionable is spending huge amounts of taxpayers money on weapons of mass destruction while there is a massive need for funding for Medicare, NDIS, housing, aged care, pensions and education while a a trillion dollar debt impacts where funds can be spent.
    The definition of absurdity is Australian politician following the US into another long losing war.
    The definition of treason is ceding Australia’s sovereignty to another nation.
    The definition of treachery is Labor who were once the party of peace, prosperity and conciliation but are now the party of war, austerity and provocation.
    The definition of duplicitous is making Australia the prime first target in a war with China because of US bases on Australian soil like Pine Gap.
    The definition of dishonest is
    Australia’s foreign policy that is actually the US’s foreign policy that is in the best interests of the US and not in the best interests of Australia. It shows poor judgement and a callous disregard for Australia and Australian values.
    The definition of folly is Australian politicians believing that the ANZUS treaty guarantees the US will defend Australia in it its hour of need.
    The definition of pathetic is Labor’s defence policy that is the same as the LNP’s failed policy.
    The definition of interoperability is being the US’s 51st state.
    The definition of irresponsibility is Labor’s lack of leadership. The present Labor leadership team of Albanese, Marles and Wong are a shiver looking for a backbone while being dictated to by the US and dancing to the Colonel Blimp legacy mainstream media’s tune.

    Beyond words: Labor’s betrayal of Australia

    What our media don’t tell us: Has the D-Notice returned?

    It Is the mass media’s job to help suppress anti-war movements

  3. Stephen S

    “While the Government continues to develop a 10-year National Housing and Homelessness Plan, $67.5 million has already been committed to boost funding to states and territories over the next year to tackle homelessness and $91.7 million over the next three years to help combat youth homelessness”.

    Direct quote from official Immigration letter, of 17 April 2023, gaslighting voters why the national rental crisis has got absolutely nothing to do with pumping the population by nearly half a mil in 2022. Smirks the letter, it’s our own selfish fault, because RBA says the “average number of people per household” fell slightly (~ 2.6 to ~ 2.55) during COVID. Of course!

    So, nothing to fear, Joey. Albanese From Social Housing has got your back. Or, rip some pages from his Plan, to cover your back. Just thinking about his ascension to the Time 100 list ought to make you feel warmer.

  4. Phil Pryor

    Caution and prudence are important, but a casual slowness, a suggestion of complacency, a possible touch of betrayal, all are disturbing, to me and to many. A J O’G says many things occur to him (her?) and I toss them over daily and now comment less, for disappointment and a pilot light effect have me, and again, many, thinking and then rethinking. We are not doing well…

  5. New England Cocky

    I share the dismay of Joey King concerning the tardiness of political progress of the Albanese LABOR government and the apparent stepping into the neo-liberal shoes previously occupied by Scummo of the Silent Seven Ministries.
    We ”kept the faith” during the cold winters of discontent between 2013 and 2022 as Toxic RAbbott then Mediocre Turdball and finally Scummo destroyed Australian egalitarianism with great gusto for the benefit of foreign owned & local corporations.
    The optimism returned with the election of the Albanese LABOR government. Social housing, Medicare, transport development projects, regional & remote development would once again be at the forefront of the political agenda we presumed. Uhm ….. WRONG!!
    Huge gratis handouts of Australian funding to pay vassalage to the USA (united States of Apartheid) for more third rate yet to be manufactured so out of date military equipment that could drag another generation of fine Australian military personnel into an endless war that, on the basis of experience since 1945, the Americans would never win.
    One more laugh for Scummo, arguably the least competent, self-serving politician in living memory (and that takes some doing when compared to Gassie Taylor & the $80 MILLION empty glass of MDB water).

    Indeed, in complete frustration I happily endorse the ajogrady post above. In less than 12 months it seems LABOR has already lost its way.

  6. wam

    Albo is attempting to avoid the speedy exit of gough, rudd, gillard and 6 year sentence of the inept shorten.
    Dutton and his followers will trail behind the bandit in chicanery.
    Dirt poor is a 20th century description of people living in dirty conditions without many of the basics. It is most visible during depressions.

  7. Harry Lime

    Cocky,so many of us average, empathetic punters were delighted to see the back of the lying sideshow barker and his conga line of incompetent and corrupt shitkickers,and I, for one,imagined a light at at the end of the sewer that we had been dragged into.Silly us,despite a few modest moves,we’ve ended up electing another bunch of only slightly less odious and timid
    POLITICIANS.Green and Independent is the only way to go.I am increasingly impressed with David Pocock,and I might have to move to Canberra to vote for him.

  8. Canguro

    Joey King’s essay is desperately sad and all the more so when one factors in that she is one amongst thousands in a similar plight.

    Neo-liberal economic policies along with the rampant pathology of the dominant social, political and economic paradigms has brought us to this wretched state of affairs where otherwise competent and intelligent people find themselves sleeping in cars & tents after being turfed by the market vicissitudes that see landlords jack up rents to stratospheric & unaffordable levels, or flog properties to make a killing in rising markets, or suck on the Airbnb teat as if there were no other reason to have property than to make dollars by the truckload and to hell with the locals who get turfed as a consequence, along with all the economic issues that arise as people vacate locations due to unaffordability of lack of housing.

    Adding salt to the wound is the government’s betrayal of its own core principles, its turning its back on the needy, and all the other factors cited above by ajogrady in his prescient observations.

    That all this is occurring in what is arguably a wealthy country is an obscenity and needs to be remedied, fast, before there is irreparable fracturing of this otherwise relatively cohesive society.

  9. Harvey

    It’s hard to deny that Labor & Libs are doing anything but their damnest to destroy the social contract. The proof is in the way both treat that fundamental need, shelter. They’ve gone out of their way to distort the property market via skewed legislation that guarantees there is no level playing field for anyone not backed by the bank of mum & dad, or in receipt of well-above average incomes. Then they dump all responsibility on the RBA. To exaggerate the effect of the distortion in affordable shelter, immigration is boosted to levels not matched by supporting infrastructure. This is no accident.
    Self-centered politicians, whether they know it or not, are actively working towards creating a situation where increasing numbers of people will reject their authority altogether. Libs & Labor & their propaganda unit (msm) are moving towards the collapse of the system of trust, the glue that helped guide progress and form functional communities over many decades. Turning their back on the needy is requisite to that destruction. It’s not a by-product of neglect, it’s deliberate.
    While Libs/Labor today do next to nothing to alleviate conditions for the less well-off, they are happy to promise 100s billion dollars of Stage 3 tax-breaks for those who least need it.
    This is the Way of the Hypocrites. Politicians call this art-performance serving the public. I call it bad-joke.

  10. Clakka

    Did we look forward to structural reform and transparency? Yeah! Instead, it appears we got tokenism and sophistry without even so much as a timetable for a return to the original Labor values. We are tired of guessing – a mug’s game at the best of times. They’l lose me too to the likes of Pocock if they don’t demonstrate they’re lifting their game. I can’t dream up any more excuses. I’ll give ’em till the end of the year.

  11. Joey King

    Thank you for reading and commenting.
    Wam, if you would like to return to the beginning of my article, you will see I reference dirt poor’s original use of dirt floors and then used the dictionary.com for an example.
    I don’t know if this allowed and will take it down if it’s not but I could use some help.
    Thank you 🙏

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