The Working Man

Posted: June 25, 2007 in Australia, News, Politics

Usually I reside in a rural area but recently I have moved to an area much closer to my state’s capital city.  This has reinforced an idea that I have held for a time, it may well be an impractical idea but it is still a notion that might bear sharing perhaps.

Urban sprawl is a global attribute of every major city, a centralised business district with a huge slather of suburbia surrounding it, where the working man dwells and lives.  The further you venture out into this veritable maze of streets, courts and drives the lower on the socio-economic scale the worker tends to be.   This is based on the price of houses, renting and so forth – this is near impossible to circumvent, people simply will pay more to live in inner city suburbs or even the central business district itself.  The result of poor urban planning in days gone by, precious little to be done about it now.

This is a time when house and petrol prices are at (near) record prices, making affordability for such things a difficulty for low income families.  The high housing and rental rates are forcing such folk further and further into the outermost suburbs, creating greater distances between where they live and where they work.  Petrol prices then become a factor, as workers are forced to commute longer distances then the cost of that same travel impacts to larger degrees against the family budget.  This acts as a proverbial ‘double whammy’ against lower income families, much like the ‘tax on a tax’ effects of the GST and petrol.

The Federal Liberal Government, not that long ago, introduced two separate grants/payments but in many ways, these failed utterly to meet the needs they were introduced for.  To begin with, the ‘First Home Buyers Grant’, which gave first home buyers $xxxx to help combat the rising price of housing.  As one might expect, any benefits of this grant were instantly erased as the price of houses immediately rose by the same amount as the grant.  The second payment was known as ‘The Baby Boomer Bonus’, where families would be paid a set amount of money, $5000 or so, for having a child.  Accounts are numerous of families spending this payment to purchase such luxuries as large screen televisions and similar items, not fully comprehending how much it costs to raise a child.  This misuse of the payment would seem to be most prevalent in low income families but you can not rightfully find them at fault for that.

But money is not the only problem with the current situation; the really important problem is that of time.  Take into consideration the situation of a low income worker who has a relatively normal 9-5 job and let’s be kind and assume he does no over time at all (unrealistic, yes, but it would only complicate the scenario needlessly).  Let’s then assume this worker resides in the outer suburbs and the time it takes for him to make the commute is one hour per trip.   He can not afford to move any closer due to housing prices so that is simply not an option.  To make it to work on time, he must leave his house at 8am at the latest which, given the normal morning routine, he needs to wake up at 6:30am or so.   At the end of the day, he travels home which takes another hour and he finally pulls into his driveway at 6pm or so and, not surprisingly, he would be pretty tired from his labours.   At this time he’d most likely need to take care of all those household activities that we all must see to; checking bills, cooking dinner, washing up and so on before collapsing into bed.

The ideal would indeed be a day consisting of eight hours work, eight hours leisure and eight hours rest. Yet we are all asked to perform activities which fly directly in the face of this ideal, with the prime example being that of the everyday commute.  Using the above example, two whole hours are dedicated to an activity which is essential for work but which workers are in no way compensated for – indeed, with the cost of transport it is the workers that pay for it.  The commute is essentially ‘dead time’; workers do not get paid for it for they are not at work,  it certainly does not count as leisure and if you rest during it, you’ll most likely end up wrapped around a tree.

So as economic forces push everyday workers further away from their places of work, they become burdened increasingly by the costs of working.  Therefore it called be called very much a catch 22 situation in various ways.

So what, if anything, could be done about this?

Instead of a grant which does nothing but increase housing prices and one large payment which acts only as a temptation, another should be put in place aimed at;

a) Compensating those in need for the time they spend commuting.

b) Assisting commuting workers with the current high price of petrol.

For example, a means tested (taking into account both income and commuting time) monthly payment through the Government agency known as Centrelink would achieve these ends without falling into the same shortfalls that the two mentioned ones do.   Even an amount such as $500 over a six month period would make a great deal of difference to low income working families and while this may not solve the problem of the time taken from ‘family time’, it would be a far better solution to what is currently available.

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