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“Shit Life Syndrome”: the criminalisation of poverty

By Bert Hetebry

In the book Pathogenesis, the author Jonathan Kennedy refers to the phrase ‘Shit Life Syndrome’ being coined by local doctors in Blackpool, one of the poorest areas in the UK. the health conditions they see most frequently are the cause of destitution and hopelessness.

The cause for the destitution and hopelessness cited by Jonathan Kennedy is deindustrialisation where the well-paying jobs in manufacturing and mining have gone and nothing has replaced those employment opportunities manifest in health outcomes which include unhealthy eating and obesity, drug overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicide.

Using just about any means of calculating, Australia is one of the wealthiest nations on earth, having about 138 billionaires and over 2 million millionaires, or about 11.2% of the population, measured in US dollars. and yet we see a rising number of people homeless, we see all the symptoms of a Shit Life Syndrome.

While we here in Australia do not have a Blackpool, we do have a health crisis brought about through destitution and hopelessness. We have areas of deindustrialisation, we have a population who live well below the ‘poverty line’, where it is impossible to scrape together a healthy meal let alone a safe place to sleep. Many in this wealthy country suffer a shit life syndrome, and we do not need to travel far to see it with our own eyes.

There is a small art gallery and local meeting place in a beachside suburb north of Perth where I attend a weekly gathering, and over several months I noticed a Land Cruiser with roof top sleeper parked there, and New Year’s Eve, a number of friends met at the picnic area there to see the sunset, enjoy some tasty snacks and see the new year in when we saw a young couple by that vehicle. We invited them to join us, but they declined, and when asked admitted to being homeless and fearful of the ranger who asks them to move on. Body language and a reluctance to engage were indicators that this couple were not in a good place. This couple is not alone, up and down the coast car parks are occupied most nights with people sleeping in cars, using the beachside amenities for their ablutions but forever fearful of their vulnerability.

Homelessness and the sense of isolation and insecurity is just one manifestation of Shit Life Syndrome. The need to find a sense of feel good somewhere, anywhere leads to drug and alcohol abuse, dare I call it addiction?

Visit the emergency department in any public hospital and there will more often than not be not only security personnel, but also police officers as drug and alcohol fuelled violence threatens the wellbeing of those dedicated to helping the people suffering from their overdoses, facing at times the real prospect of not surviving the crisis they find themselves in. Too many don’t make it, the deaths reported as a result of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse are staggeringly high among adults, with the highest in the latest figures from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reported for aged 25 to 34 year. the greatest proportion of deaths for people aged 25 to 84 occurred in the most disadvantaged areas, interestingly, deaths for those aged 15 to 24 tended to be from more advantaged areas, possibly indicating a willingness to experiment with drug taking and binge drinking rather than as a dependency to deal with the sense of destitution and hopelessness.

The most common drug of concern is alcohol with drug related ambulance attendance, 59% were for alcohol intoxication. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.)

Another factor in Shit Life Syndrome is the prevalence of obesity and the various health issues related to inadequate diets. The proportion of overweight or obese adults in Australian 2022 was 65.8%, an increase from 62.8% in 2011-12 with the category defined as obese rising from 27.5% to 31.7%. The rate of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents is about 25%, higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the principle cause is an imbalance between energy consumed through food and drink and activity to burn off that energy. The addictive nature of high sugar and fatty foods and high sugar content drinks combined with a lack of physical activity combine to create a serious health crisis. Those foods and drinks are also the most affordable quick hunger fixes from the local kid friendly fast-food outlet.



Poverty plays a significant role in the Shit Life Syndrome. The frustrations of not having enough for food and clothing let alone accommodation leads to anger and domestic violence, children suffer abuse and neglect as parenting skills are clouded in the haze of a sense of uselessness.

The Shit Life Syndrome is evident all around us but probably most reported on when it deals with aboriginal issues such as in Alice Springs or Broome and occasionally reports about remote communities where the cost of fresh produce is exorbitant, housing inadequate but the problem is so remote that it flies under the radar, seems to go unchecked until there is some kind of trouble, like a young man being shot by a police officer.

But what can be done to ease the crisis of the Shit Life Syndrome?

In remote communities, the cost of providing basic essentials, like fresh produce for the general store can be subsidised, where the freight component of cost is borne by the government. so that a healthy diet is actually affordable, and yes, I have travelled through some remote parts of western Australia and am shocked by the supermarket prices of basic food items, but I am privileged enough to be able to afford them while on holiday but would find it difficult if that were everyday prices.

The continued refusal to increase the Job Seeker allowance to reflect something like addressing the cost of living to provide help and dignity for those who really are the forgotten ones in our communities. Get over the dole bludger mentality, I really don’t believe anyone enjoys being unemployed and poor to the extent that they cannot even afford a decent shirt to go to a job interview let alone the cost of the train or bus fare to get there.

So much of the syndrome is marked by a sense of inadequacy, and with it a seeking of solace or some degree of feel good through substance abuse.

We are a wealthy nation, but too much wealth is concentrated on those who already have more than enough, and we should surely be moving to a more equal society instead of continuing with the stage 3 tax cuts which will increase the gap between the haves and have nots, look to using that tax take to level out the peaks and troughs increasing inequality bring about. That the cost of living crisis we hear so much about is to some extent redressed through a more equitable income tax regime, and pay for the freight to remote communities for food and other essential supplies so that the tyranny of distance is not a barrier to affordable healthy living, to increase the Jobseeker payments so that those recipients too can enjoy a decent meal and have the self-confidence to look and dress appropriately for the job interview so they too can have the dignity of a job. Increase funding for Medicare so that bulk billing is more readily available, so the adequate health care is available even for the most disadvantaged.

Reduce the ability for those with the most to avoid paying taxes, measures like income sharing, tax deductibility for car use and so many other loopholes which exist to minimise paying taxes.


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  1. Gerald Houska

    Shame, Labor, shame. I didn’t expect anything from the Coalition, but I thought Labor was better than that. I was bitterly disappointed. Stage three tax cuts come before help to the homeless and hungry.

  2. New England Cocky

    ”While we here in Australia do not have a Blackpool, we do have a health crisis brought about through destitution and hopelessness. We have areas of deindustrialisation, we have a population who live well below the ‘poverty line’, where it is impossible to scrape together a healthy meal let alone a safe place to sleep. Many in this wealthy country suffer a shit life syndrome, and we do not need to travel far to see it with our own eyes.”
    Obviously author Bert Hetebry has not travelled through regional and remote Australia recently where too many decades of COALition neglect and metro-centric expenditure on public infrastructure than is then sold off to COALition ”political donors” often at a fraction of the real cost.
    Anybody for a freeway to cut 30 minutes off the trip from the Blue Mountains to the Sydney CBD with a free two (2) hour ”crawl-over” in a rolling carpark under Rozelle interchange?
    The poor little darlings on the Bankstown Line can expect disruption to their train service while too long overdue renovations occupy the next 12 months (if the project uncharacteristically runs to schedule and on budget).
    Now consider the plight of aged pensioners living north of Tamworth, the Hunter New England Regional Centre, who are required to travel 300+ km each way to attend medical treatments in Tamworth while the train has been absent for over 30 years as successive NSW governments have refused to re-open the Great Northern Railway Line between Armidale and Wallangarra.
    Why was the line closed?? To save money services had to be cut and because there were fewer LABOR voters north of the present terminus at Armidale than on the western Sydney metro suburban railway lines.
    Too bad that the huge costs were created on the Sydney metro network that now has about a 75% government subsidy.
    Yes, regional & remote NSW has ”a health crisis brought about through destitution and hopelessness” brought on by inadequate government services and declining economic opportunities because government departments are concentrated in metro cities.
    Yes, regional & remote NSW has ”a population who live well below the ‘poverty line’ clearly visible in any town less than 10,000 persons.
    Yes, our kids would describe living in many parts of regional and remote NSW as ”a shit life” relieved only by over-consumption of alcohol, too much silly white powders and criminal activity to break the monotony of not having a dream for a better future.

  3. Gus

    Excellent coverage exposing the important cracks in our social structure; we cannot rely on our Governments to fix the cracks as they are committed to a world Government to bring the structure down and start again under new rules and laws.
    We should not wait for ‘enough is enough’.

  4. leefe

    “While we here in Australia do not have a Blackpool … ”

    Go into any remote indigenous community and then tell us that.

  5. Clakka

    Good article.

    But it would be wise not to jump the gun. No-one has yet seen the construction of the May budget, nor the ultimate construction of the Stage 3 tax cuts due in July.

    These two will have to work in conjunction with one another, and will be critical to our future as well as that of the Albanese Labor government.

    Dutton, the LNP and their flunky msm are simply at present trying to pre-empt, stalk and bluster Labor into revealing their calculus and intended actions before time, purely so they can drum up an attack plan. Otherwise, they don’t have a plan of their own nor the functional ability to deliver one.

  6. Keitha Granville

    Stop the tax cuts to those higher up the tree.
    Increase unemployment payment and all other allowances.
    Double the Tax Free Threshold.
    Income spitting for those on less than $60,000 – seems incredible but there are many who struggle with minimum wages.
    Fruit and veg should be the same price all over the country – why do regional families have to pay more when they already earn less.
    Provide more free park ups with facilities for those with no more than a car or a tent.
    Build affordable housing – lots of it, everywhere.

    I know that all of you have extra things you could add to this list, the needs are endless. We are SO disillusioned with Labor, so excited when they tossed the LNP right wing bastards, and what have they done? Tinkered around the edges, very little of any meaning, so next election when they are thrown out for NOT doing enough we’ll end up with the mongrels who don’t WANT to do ANYTHING.

    Meanwhile – those of you with anything to spare, donate to community food hubs who try to keep up with feeding those who have nothing, buy locally whenever you can so that small stores have a chance against the money hungry super stores, donate if you can to charities that help the neglected.

    Write to your MP, any party, tell them to DO something, to justify their salaries and their future pensions. None of these people will EVER know homelessness, hunger or poverty.

    Apologies for the rant, it just gets to me some days 🙁

  7. JulianP

    @Keitha Granville.
    No need to apologize KG, you are definitely not on your own.
    For my self, I shall find it difficult not to hit the next Tory who boasts about the “trickle-down effect”.

  8. Heather

    Mendacious policies from mendacious people who pretend to be in Government. That’s a global Liberal affliction.

  9. JANO from The Gong ..

    The Shit Life Syndrome – is really the signs of the times we live in ..Greed and wealth and the good life abounds in the lucky country – Blessed are the Poor for they shall see the Kingdome of God . (.Wealth distribution and IN equality is in a state of Poverty ..Or there is Poverty of Solutions and crippling lack of desire in Parliment and in the community abroad )

    .Other than, charity and church organisations banging on about it to Life their game and actually Lead by example – Let me cast back to – ( THE SENATE INQUIRY INTO POVERTY- 2002 / 2003 ), ..Both sides of politics in a rare show of Bipartison detachment , went nation wide to community to community ,state to state , listening first Hand to thousands of welfare recipients from different catergories ,,Long term unemployed ,,Youth , Veterans ..Migrants , Aboriginals ,,Disability Pensioners ..Aged pensioners .Etc ..all had one thing in Common ..The shit Life Syndrome . 6 Months later ,they released the findings and reccomendations ..which by the way was over 70 reccomendations !! ,,,,Sadly , this Book called THE SENATE ENQUIRT IN TO POVERTY 2002/2003 is gathering Cob Webs some where in the Parliment Library – To this very day none of the 70 reccomendations have been followed up or heeded to and implemented ,,A Total Failure and lack of Political Will to end the suffering and scourge of The shit Life Syndrome ,,,The fat cat Politicians and rich wealthy Businesses and Individuals – Are caught up in their Comfort Zone turning a Blind EYE, while the rest Suffer ,, The Masters and Slaves ,,The Haves and The have Nots ..The Heart of Greed and selfishness ,, Its time The Rich Became Poor and The Poor became Rich …Condemn these rich wealthy Mongrels , TO 10 Years Of Work For The Doles schemes ..Seize their Wealth Assets and Distribute back into the community ,,,while where at it ..Make Parlimentary Pensions Uniform in LIne with the Aged Pension ,,How much money would this save from this political RORT ???? ,

    Serving in Parliment ought to be a privilige- Not a Luxury !!!- Fair GO for all ..Not Just Some ..THE SHIT LIFE SYNDROME is Criminal , The Fair Go life in Australia is a Myth ,, (There is enough wealth in this country for us all to be Millionaires !!!!) …But its in control of the small minority , The system is rigged in favour of the Elite , the controlling monopoly, The world wide corrupt powers ,,Satanic Masters – who control the real Levers of the Corridors of power ..The shadow Organisations who want to abolish cash N money and move to scanning and Invasive technologies and chips in the arm to Buy N sell ..A Night Mare of Biblical proportions , And when this New system gets Ushered In ,,it will make – The Shit Life Syndrome – look like A pimple on the back side in comparison ,,,God Help us All !!! ……The Book of Revelations is ringing out in the Middle East !!! …..

  10. paul walter

    That is the problem with neo liberalism. It can accumulate wealth but has no idea of the potential of that wealth in human existence. It is like Gaza. They could have let ft it alone without killing all those people.

    I say this because I believe this is no more than a sly scam to ensure that Palestine and Gaza get none of the Levant gas..
    As for poverty here, I don’t believe it will be dealt with. Labor can go only so far and as for the Tories, what hope?

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