BILL CARRUTHERS can only imagine where his life would have gone without Cockburn’s financial counselling service.
“I think I would have done a bit of time, to be honest,” the South Lake resident told the Herald.
As anger continues to mount over the Barnett government’s ruthless axing of the popular service’s funding, Mr Carruthers is so grateful for the support he received he’s agreed to publicly air his family’s tribulations to demonstrate why the decision should be reversed.
While his counsellor has been important in juggling bills to keep power connected, food on the table and a roof over his family’s head, he says it was her help dealing with a neighbour from hell that makes her, literally, a life-saver.
“She offered support and looked at avenues to rectify the problem because I was not in a position to up stumps and move,” the casual bus driver and chauffeur says.
“I’ve got two boys who’ve both been diagnosed with ADHD, and my 14-year-old son was having suicidal thoughts because of the stress from next door.
The counsellor helped organise a community meeting attended by then-housing minister Troy Buswell, which led to the neighbours moving on.
Mr Carruthers says without that intervention he’d have been tempted to take the law into his own hands.
“Colleen is like a guiding light in the ocean, a lighthouse to keep you away from the rocks,” he says. “This is why I can’t understand why anyone would think it would save a dollar.”
He says the service is like a safety valve, and without it parents will struggle so much some are likely to toss their kids onto the street, leading to more anti-social behaviour, crime and reliance on social services.
“I’m what you’d call working poor, just a battler trying to earn a dollar,” Mr Carruthers says. “I am working almost seven days a week, but it’s casual so I don’t bring in a lot of money. I have not had a weekend off in seven years.”
Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk describes the cuts as unacceptable.
“The cuts come on the heels of a state budget that’s delivered above-inflation increases in utilities and service charges,” she told the Herald.
“Unemployment is on the rise, and people struggling to pay their bills and get back on track will find it even harder in the future.
“The irony is that people who are seeking help to get their finances in order are having their support cancelled by a government that has lost the plot with its own finances.”
Meanwhile, in an extraordinary display of solidarity, the heads of five community support services have issued a public statement condemning the cuts.
Helen Creed from the Community Legal Centres Association, Lesley Kirkwood from the Women’s Law Centre, Kate Davis from Tenancy WA, Faith Cheok from Consumer Credit Legal Service of WA and Cheryl Cassidy-Vernon from Youth Legal Service describe the cuts are “devastating”.
“Some clients get told by [child protection] that they have to see a financial counsellor as part of the conditions of having their children returned to their care; it is the same department that is cutting the funding,” Ms Kirkwood says.
“Without help with budgeting, negotiation with creditors, advice about the economic impediment of bankruptcy, our young clients are doomed to entrenched disadvantage,” adds Ms Cassidy-Vernon adds.
by STEVE GRANT