I’m a working non-family, how about you?


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Barely a day goes by without our faithful leader, PM Julia Gillard, or our faithful swimsuit-model-wannabe-leader Mr Abbott, dropping the “W.F.” bomb. Working families. Sometimes it is “H.W.F”, or hardworking families, when they feel like sticking it to all those out there who self-identify as lazy. Which is nobody.

We’ve seen plenty of this recently. Depending on who is talking, working families will either feel nothing from the carbon tax or will be reduced to begging on street corners to scrape together enough spare change to afford to turn on the plasma long enough to watch Masterchef each night.

According to every single one of our political leaders, their policies will never, ever negatively impact on working families. The concerns of working families are paramount to both sides of the political spectrum. All in all, it seems that working families alone yield the total sum of political power in the country. No matter your views on the carbon tax, they are grazing on a pretty sweet political paddock (and generating a fair bit of greenhouse gas in the process) in terms of their ability to influence.

However, this raises an important question. Ummm… WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF US? Funnily enough, some Australians don’t actually fit into the much-loved yet problematic “working families” category of swing voter. Let’s try to break it down, even though it’s actually fairly difficult to pigeonhole an entire population with any degree of accuracy.

Working non-families

This is the category that I myself fall into, as a single woman of modest means who is not really in want of a husband right now, unless he’s really keen to help me finance a PhD.

Some people may argue that I am part of a working family, as I have parents and siblings who work, even though I don’t live with them. However, let’s get real here. I’m not disowning my lovely family, but my parents and I certainly have different priorities when we rock up to the ballot box. We don’t vote as a family unit (except in Albury City Council elections, for an obvious reason). While they aren’t close to being retired, my parents also have priorities that are likely very different from a young family with kids, which highlights the problematic nature of bundling everyone who has ever reproduced into one big category to save having to, you know, be complex or something.

As young people spend more time in education and other social norms shift, more and more people fall into this working non-family category. It’s also not exclusively the domain of the young. What about divorcees or older people who have left long term relationships who never had kids? Or the 40-year-old virgin from that terrible movie? Despite these changes, we are yet to hear a policy or campaign message specifically targeting single people living in overpriced dirty sharehouses in Dulwich Hill from either the Labor or Liberal camps.

Non-families need to buy groceries too, and it’s really hard to bulk buy to save moolah when you are sharing one fridge with five random people you found through a classifieds ad to share a two-bedroom apartment in Bondi. Also, won’t somebody think of the apprentices? Those people earn barely anything, yet we need more and more of them to help fix those machines that rip all the stuff out of the ground to send to China so that we can then complain about them not reducing their carbon emissions.

Non-working families

While arguably, those who are living off social security payments are probably struggling the most with rising costs in society, politicians don’t seem to really care that much. While it is no excuse for their behaviour, a big reason why this group is neglected is because politicians are scared of sparking the long-running civil war between working families and non-working families.

This conflict, fought largely on the ancient and sacrosanct battle fields known as “Today Tonight,” “A Current Affair” and “Talkback Radio,” pits battler against battler in the ultimate victim-mentality showdown. While a handful of spectators might mumble bizarre thoughts such as: “what about the carer’s allowance? Surely stay-at-home carers reduce the cost burden on taxpayers? What about the disability allowance? What about single mothers? Isn’t it a good thing that we support people who are out of work so their kids don’t have to sell crack at my local primary school? Are we talking about the aged pension here or not? Everybody loves old people…” the rest of the country is just throwing around dole bludger slurs.

For politicians, this drags valuable attention away from criticising their opposition, because surely neither party would be stupid enough to scrap the social welfare net anyway.

Sorry, non-working families. Helping you out some more doesn’t really help out anyone… politically. So no voice for you.

Non-working non-families

Holy Howard, surely this category is the most unAustralian of them all? This category encompasses, among others, single people on social security payments (you may know some of them as full-time students), former evictees from the Big Brother house surviving on free shots at bars along the Gold Coast and, depending on your definition of families, youth.

Single people on social security face many of the same challenges as non-working families in terms of political acknowledgement. However, that category of full-time university and TAFE students gets a special mention. While they are doing what economists might call “boosting human capital,” which can lead to a more skilled workforce for long-term prosperity, they face lots of scorn just because they sometimes can drink on weeknights. The fact is that a lot of full-time students do work alongside their studies… they need to do this to afford to live in expensive cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. However, those that don’t work have little political clout while they read their books in the library… which is a bit sad considering that intelligence should probably be encouraged. However, I guess it’s a lot harder to policy slam with lame slogans when people are actually thinking critically.

As for youth more broadly, many of them may still live with their families while they finish their education (and once again, some of them might have jobs, showing how problematic these broad categories are), however this doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own policy concerns that are different from those of their parents. Despite this, nobody is pitching vote grabbers at them and some of them can’t even vote yet anyway. For those who are unlucky enough to just miss out on the chance to vote in the next Federal election, whoever is in government will have the mandate to impact on their lives until they are 21 years old. On an issue like climate change, the decisions that are made now could have impacts on the rest of their lives. But sorry, no representation for you!

For all these disenfranchised groups, there’s an easy answer though. Get yourself knocked up and make sure you have a job! Preferably on the mines! You won’t only get the baby bonus and a sweet iron ore cheque; you’ll also get the satisfaction that comes with being part of the single most politically influential sector of Australian society.

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