The cupboard’s bare, Mr Barnett

WE didn’t set this photo up: it’s Judith Murray’s fridge a few days out from pension day.

A handful of vegies in the crisper, a container of coffee, two limes, some vinegar, butter, spring water and a couple of sauces.

The full-time carer wants WA housing minister Colin Holt to explain how she’s going to feed herself after being told the rent on her Fremantle Cold Stores flat is going up $50 a fortnight.

Housing last week issued letters to tenants telling them a range of allowances and subsidies previously excluded as income would be roped in from March, and 25 per cent taken as rent.

It’s drawn howls of complaints from tenants, social services and the Opposition, who say most allowances aren’t income but reimbursement for expenses.

Labor housing shadow Fran Logan says the Barnett government is trying to fix its economic bumbling by punishing those least able to afford it.

Ms Murray says it’s outrageous that Housing is assessing her carers’ allowance as income.

“Ohhhhh, oh my lord,” she groans when asked how she’ll cope.

“I’ll be going down to the soup van, I’ll be lining up at St Pat’s.”

She says she’s already a virtual vegan because she can’t afford meat, and she worries about visitors dropping by when she’s down to the last few sheets of toilet paper a few days out from her pension.

“There’s also the emotional costs, because as a 24-hour carer it’s quite taxing. As a treat once a week I can go to Manna to have a cup of coffee, and it’s just time out where no-one’s calling on me.

“Already sometimes I say to people ‘I can’t come for coffee because I’ve got something on’, when the reality is I don’t have any money in my purse.”

Judith Murray wonders how she’ll feed herself with higher WA Housing Department rents. Photo by Steve Grant

Judith Murray wonders how she’ll feed herself with higher WA Housing Department rents. Photo by Steve Grant

Ms Murray says being a full-time carer for a family member saves the government $31,920 a year in staffing costs alone, and she does it for the equivalent of $4.69 an hour.

Some elderly residents in her complex have decided to get their heaters removed: they pay a levy for the heaters and not being able to afford to run them makes keeping them a waste of money.

Colin Holt defends the change as “equitable”, claiming all public housing tenants are being treated the same.

In an interview with Channel 9 he claimed the changes bring WA into line with other states: “This is a standard practice across Australia,” he told TV viewers. “We want to harmonise our rent — some people are already paying 25 per cent. It’s just bringing all of those [people] in line with that.”

But when the Herald checked with other states’ housing departments the minister’s claim didn’t stack up.

South Australia, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory do not consider the pharmaceutical benefit, carer’s allowance, veteran’s special disability allowance or mobility allowances as income.

Queensland under the former Liberal National Newman government introduced similar provisions in 2014, but not even it roped in the disability pension paid by the federal veterans affairs department.

The Herald asked Mr Holt’s office to explain the discrepancy, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

Mr Logan says Labor will overturn the changes if elected in 2017.

“I can’t see any reason not to, because they haven’t been justified it in any way,” the Cockburn MP told the Herald.

“The Liberal-National government is now blatantly attacking pensioners, the disabled and veterans who rent state government housing.”

Paul Coates, CEO of CarersWA, says his organisation’s started fielding worried calls but many won’t yet be aware of the implications. “We have research which estimates that the cost/value of caring each year is $60 billion and therefore their contribution to society is immense both in terms of social/health contribution, let alone the financial saving to the community,” he says, describing the changes as “mealy-mouthed”.


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