Last night I read a post by a woman named Louise about what it really means to be a student in New Zealand. It really cut me open.
When I first started writing about being sick – I can’t even remember when this was, sometime after I came out of hospital – my goal was to attack and deconstruct the stereotypes about beneficiaries. I don’t know that I’ve made as much progress as I would like on that. The people who seem to listen are either those that were converted anyway, or those that seem to think I’m an outlier, which is ridiculous.
It is incredibly difficult to share your personal story as a means to attack a cultural belief – and let’s be honest, these are cultural beliefs. New Zealanders, in general, like to believe that beneficiaries are worthless and undeserving. They like to believe that students are packs of roving alcoholics, sleeping through lectures, stealing letterboxes and babies.
I don’t know why they like to believe these things. If they are so deeply concerned about the use of “their taxpayer dollar” would it not be much more comforting to search for the truth?
I’m no number cruncher, but it appears that the rates of the student allowance and student loan increases have in no way matched inflation. They seem pretty similar to what I got back in 2006, 2007. The allowance was around $180 I think, maybe $190. My rent was $90 a week because we were two couples living in a two bedroom place. That left$90 for power, phone, internet, food, warm clothes etc etc. We were lucky if we pooled our change for a $10 bottle of wine.
It’s the same living on a benefit. This is not the life of luxury it’s painted as – if you call watching tv and eating KFC 24/7 luxury. I’m not sure how KFC even entered into this narrative, yet it’s always there. Maybe because it’s cheaper than fruit and vegetables.
What makes me so desperately sad and angry is how readily the public continue to swallow the narratives sold by the government and main stream media. How easy it is to demonise those who are mostly too disenfranchised to do anything about it.
Students and beneficiaries are entitled to the help we receive, as much as many people would love to see that help revoked. And even if – heaven forbid! – there were extra so that one could have the luxury of a drink or a meal out sometime – why the hell is that anyone else’s business.
We pay our taxes to the government. (Guess what!? Beneficiaries and students pay taxes too!) The government decides how best to spend that money. If you have a problem with the fact that it is used to support our future doctors, leaders, scientists, or vulnerable members of society like people with disabilities – maybe you should ask John Key about it.
What does the government gain from painting people in need with such a vicious brush? I can only theorise that it’s a blame game. People complaining about decifits and the use of their tax dollars? Blame it on beneficiaries! Not our fault they need to eat! Blame it on students! How dare they want to get qualifications?!
Louise and I have both admitted that we owe a lot to the kindness of others. There’s been many cases when it’s the only way I’ve stayed afloat. It’s not a sustainable way of living, and it’s not a nice way to feel.
That’s why I’m not going to give up writing about this stuff and sharing my own life as illustration, even though I hate doing that. It’s invasive and it’s frightening and it’s put me at risk multiple times. It costs me physically and emotionally. But I cannot let the toxic mainstream narrative be the only one.
And I commend Louise for having the courage to stand too.