People have been writing about the glass ceiling for years, but some women need to worry more about a glass floor.
While people on 150,000 a year worry about losing their middle-class welfare, T sits at the kitchen table and cries because she feels her life is worth nothing. Her daughter’s aunts and grandparents are all (recently) dead and she has no support system. She needed that support system because under the Workfare rules brought in by the Howard government, she has to work a certain number of hours a week and her profession is lighting technician, so her hours are always unfriendly ones. She couldn’t get child care in her working hours even if she could afford it. The glass floor of social support has smashed under her.
If she works these hours, she doesn’t get to see her beautiful daughter, who of course is at school all day. There would be no-one to look after her from school time to midnight. Her earnings are a perfect example of the problem of EMTRs.
In better times, she scrimped and juggled to buy a house in a rough part of town, which she rebuilt – not redecorated, rebuilt – with her own hands. You should just see the job she did tiling the bathroom. This house she will almost certainly lose. She’ll fall through the glass floor to rejoin the overheated rental market.
Centrelink has breached her for missing two weeks work. In stage work, where the nature of the work is on again, off again. The work she does raising her daughter is, of course, worthless to them.
This is the second time they’ve done it. Last year they breached her for taking some weeks off to look after her postoperative and as it turned out, dying mother. Her brother had died not long before that. She sits at the table and cries and hates the world because she has never been given the chance to care for and mourn her family.
People complain about how much they have to spend on private education and proper health care. She doesn’t even think about these things. She’s fallen through those floors.
In all the decades I’ve known her, she has gone away for a holiday once, to visit her country of origin. She’s fallen through that floor.
Owning a car? She hasn’t driven a car for twenty years. In her highly physical, itinerant job, she has to bike or take public transport everywhere. She’s crashed through that floor.
Parties? entertainment, music? You need money for that. She’s fallen through that floor to a place where the house is quiet and dark and you cook on the gas barbeque because the stove no longer works, and you heat bricks on the same barbeque, carry them into the house on a baking tray and put them under the table to warm your legs a little.
She shows me a letter from Joe Ludwig, the Human Services minister, in reply to a letter someone has written. It’s saying he’s handballing the matter to Julia Gillard because she’s the minister for workplace relations. Shame on him.
The last government valorised mothers at home and gave them non means-tested handouts, except for single mothers, who they punished with the “mutual obligation” stick, while ignoring the need for social supports and childcare to enable them to work. Picking up that system and running with it, is that good enough – Joe? Julia?
Oh, there are still some glass floors she can crash through. The mortgage payment will be due soon. She is thinking that soon she will be in a place where the authorities will not just be coming for her, but taking her daughter away. The stresses of her life are making this strong, lively woman paranoid and ill. She has begun to behave defiantly, withholding the compliant cooperation the bureaucracy wants. Soon fingers will start to point and judge. The last few layers of glass are starting to crack.