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Income , NOT Budgeting, is the Issue

Income , NOT Budgeting, is the Issue.

10 December 2013

Tamara Baddeley is a home care worker in Wellington. A member of the Service and Food Workers Union, she has also been a spokesperson for the Living Wage campaign. Max Rashbrooke interviewed Tamara for this viewpoint.

It's sometimes said that those on low incomes need to manage their money better, but you can't tell Tamara Baddeley anything about budgeting. Once the essentials are paid for, she has $10 a day to look after herself and her nineteen-year old daughter.

Baddeley's job is to care for people in their own homes when they can't do it themselves. Her patients range in age between sixty-five and ninety-eight. Some simply struggle to do their own housework. But others have dementia, or need help throughout the day. One of Baddeley's patients has to be hoisted into the shower, showered and dressed, then hoisted back into a wheelchair and pushed into the dining room for morning tea. Baddeley returns at midday to help him with lunch and a toilet break, and again in the evening to get him into bed. Some of the other people she looks after have had strokes and are ‘totally reliant' on the help they get, Baddeley says.

On top of this physically and emotionally gruelling work, she often gives patients their medicine, and is trained in stoma care. She also acts as a kind of counsellor - ‘they talk to you about it, their illness' - and as the ‘eyes and ears' of the health service, alerting doctors and hospitals when people's conditions worsen.

Baddeley works up to twelve hours in a shift, seeing six to ten patients a day in Wellington's southern suburbs. For this she gets paid $14.80 an hour. Such low pay makes her feel ‘undervalued and unappreciated'. It reflects government underfunding of health services, the workforce's lack of power, and the fact that work carried out by women has historically been underpaid - and undervalued. As Baddeley puts it: ‘We are doing similar work to registered nurses but we are not getting paid for it. We are not getting recognised for it.'

The pay is also unpredictable, as Baddeley's workload changes from fortnight to fortnight, depending on how many patients she is asked to see. This makes budgeting even more difficult. But on average, she works around thirty-seven hours a week, which gives her an income of about $490 after tax (with a petrol allowance included).

Now that her daughter is nineteen and studying to be a mechanic, they no longer get any Working for Families payments. If her daughter qualifies for a student allowance, it will do little more than cover her travel costs, course expenses and a tiny bit of spending money.

Baddeley's budget breaks down as follows:

Pay (after tax) $490
Phone $25
Car running costs$25
Life insurance$15
Petrol $50
Supermarket shop$75
Milk/bread etc$15
Total $440
For everything else $50

She has just $50 a week - less than $10 a day - to cover everything else that two people need: shoes, clothes, doctors' visits, birthday presents and so on. It's nowhere near enough for week-by-week living, let alone dealing with emergencies. ‘Heaven help you if your car breaks down', Baddeley says. And of course saving for the future is out of the question.

Strict budgeting is simply a part of her life. ‘You become very good at budgeting through necessity, not choice', Baddeley says. Her parents help out with meat parcels, and she gets jobs such as car repairs done, wherever possible, by mates - at mate's rates. She can't remember the last time she bought clothes at full price, and, even though she loves books, almost always buys them second-hand or borrows them from the library. She and her daughter have takeaways maybe once a month. She doesn't smoke, and only very occasionally drinks.

As far as entertainment goes, they last went to the movies four years ago when she won tickets off the radio, and they haven't had a holiday - beyond trips to see her parents in Taupo - for six years. They certainly don't have Sky, so if her rugby-mad daughter wants to watch a Hurricanes game, they have to go to the local clubrooms and buy a $4 jug of lemonade to last them through the evening.

‘It's budgeting, it's buying only "ownbrands" at the supermarket, it's buying only exactly what we need', Baddeley says. ‘I have been doing it for twenty years. I can't do it any better than I do now.'

For this, and other reasons, Baddeley is supporting the Living Wage campaign, led by community groups, churches and unions, for workers to be paid an hourly rate of $18.40, rather than the minimum wage of $13.75 (see Chapter 11). So what would she do with that extra money?

‘Well', she says, ‘I'd like to be able to know that if I wanted to go to the movies at the weekend, I could actually do it and enjoy it, and not have to figure out what's going to be cut to let me do that. Or I'd like to be able to plan for a real holiday and go somewhere where you're not relying on someone's hospitality. Or not panic when the car goes for a warrant. Or go to the clubrooms and actually buy a beer rather than a jug of lemonade for four dollars.'

‘Or', she says finally, ‘maybe I could cutback and not have to work Sunday, and be able to go away for a weekend.' And, perhaps, be able to relax the budgeting just a little.

Tamara Baddeley viewpoint, in Max Rashbrooke (ed), Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2013, pp87-88. http://www.bwb.co.nz/books/inequality

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