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August 2020

Chapter 9 – Income for Independence

By | Disability | No Comments
by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.


Whilst I enjoyed my internship, I was relived it was over, as now Dudley and I would start our life together, under the same roof.
            We had been dating for several months before Dudley suggested we live together. Initially in our romance, I travelled from the Central Coast to Newcastle each weekend by train—so besotted it was not a chore. Although I was doing my best to ‘play it cool’, the man captured my heart from the start. One Friday night, within a fortnight of starting my internship, we were on his couch watching a wildlife show and, in our best David Attenborough voices, we were commentating. I was in hysterics, then, suddenly, during a commercial break, Dudley asked me to move in with him. I spat my tea back though my straw. I was stunned!
            ‘Are you serious?’ I asked.
            ‘Yeah, you don’t have to,’ he added. I guess he picked up on my hesitancy and I replied that I had not said ‘no’. I agreed to move in with him on one condition: that I would contribute to rent and bills and, looking into his penetrating blue eyes, I said ‘yes.’ This proved to be one of the best decisions in my life.
             I chose to move in with Dudley after my Sydney internship ended and we found a federation house, abundant with character, close to shops and cafes in Newcastle. My community worker from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) assisted me in organising carers for morning personal care. I would have to pay for this but it was doable with my current income support.
             Moving in with Dudley provided me a sense of emancipation and independence and as much as I was driven to gain employment, I planned to first settle into my new home. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of time. After a few days, I notified Centrelink of my altered living arrangements and received new paperwork to complete. The questions on the forms were invasive and my relationship with Dudley was quite new, so exchanging financial details was extremely confronting.
             Two weeks later, I returned to Centrelink with my support worker Claire and the forms were perused by a middle-aged woman with blonde hair and the empathy of a storm trooper. She firmly announced that, due to Dudley’s income, my entire disability support pension would be removed along with my concession card. I was devastated, walking outside in silence with Claire before releasing an almighty howl. Tears blurred my vision as this moment took its rightful place as one of the most disempowering points of my life.
             Millions of thoughts raced through my head and anger pulsated through every cell of my body. How could I possibly afford to live with Dudley? Why remove my income support?
             I had expected my income support might decrease because of Dudley’s wage. I was not prepared to be completely cut off. Claire offered me a cup of tea and solace but I declined. I just had to figure this out. This was not the 1950s. I loved Dudley and the notion of being financially dependent upon him as my partner felt archaic. I had always been a fiercely independent woman and now that identity was slipping.
             When Dudley arrived home from work and I told him what happened, he said he wasn’t surprised. Although he was happy to support me, I placed too much value on my autonomy, finding the thought of being reliant on my partner degrading. After some discussion, we agreed he would pay for my rent and food, but I wanted to pay for all my other expenses. The question was how? I wanted to live with Dudley and wondered how I would manage to be financially independent.
             Firmly believing a gross injustice had taken place, I challenged Centrelink’s decision. Dudley and I did not share finances nor did I have a desire to do so. I wrote to members of parliament regarding my plight and their responses stated that it was out of their hands—it was legislation. I also sought the assistance of a disability advocate, then abandoning this avenue with the realisation of the time and challenges involved. I decided to devote all my energy into finding work.
             Securing employment remained elusive even after 18 months from graduation; my prospects looked grim and I needed money fast! My motivation to secure work suddenly changed from a desire to be productive, utilising my skills and passion to a sheer desperation for any paid work. I began to question whether I wanted to live with Dudley. Accepting that I did, I decided to find any means of income but as time progressed, I started to become housebound as I had limited funds.
             Seeking the assistance of a local disability employment agency, I was supported by consultant Dianne, who was lovely and extremely knowledgeable. She suggested I apply for mobility allowance whilst I was looking for work and this became a huge help, as I could only use taxis to travel around town. My unsteady gait meant riding buses was out of the question. While the mobility allowance helped a bit, I was travelling by train each fortnight to visit mum and without a concession card, I was paying full fare with money I didn’t have. I doubted I could pay with monopoly money. I felt extremely humiliated, relying on Dudley’s income rendered me dependent and I felt stripped of my dignity.
             My desperation to generate income became extreme, I was willing to do almost anything, including life modelling. There were limitations even upon the ‘just for money’ jobs that I could do, my disability meant that jobs such as delivering pamphlets, stacking or waiting tables were out of the question.
             As I was churning out job applications and as the year was ending, I came across a position that I desperately wanted: a research position at Newcastle University. My employment advisor encouraged me to apply, convinced that my prospects were good and that I had a well-matched skill set. I hit a new low when I was unsuccessful. I felt that I was applying for countless positions to no avail.
             Through the CPA, I connected with Sue Werner an employment consultant; and Sue Brown, the regional manager. Claire, my community worker, emailed both women outlining my financial plight and attaching my resume. Shortly afterwards, Sue Brown suggested that she circulate my resume through her contacts. I was thrilled and began to receive notifications for a range of positions.
             In the New Year, Sue Werner told me of a possibility to have a research contract with CPA. The job was for 12 hours each week and half my time would be in the office, allowing me to work from home for the remaining hours. Finally, I would have financial independence and be able to contribute to the rent and expenses. Was this a dream or were the stars finally aligning? I took a deep breath and accepted the truth. I could hardly wait to start!