Tuesday, 24 July 2012

On handouts and booze consumption

I read an interesting comment in InDaily today, where a letter to the editor ran as follows:

WHAT a sad indictment of today’s society that there is a significant rise in smokes and booze consumption as a result of the Government’s latest giveaway. Whether one agrees with the giveaway or not, was it not intended to compensate for the increased cost of living as a result of the carbon tax? I wonder who will be the first to cry when the new utility bills continue to come in long after the booze and smokes have been consumed. Have we forgotten about saving for a rainy day or are we expecting the Government to come along with another handout?

The writer, Peter Hart, is right on the money. As a non-smoker who hasn't received any benefit from the handouts, I have very little sympathy for people who are at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale who spend so much on these cancer sticks.

Ok, that wasn't entirely fair. There is ample evidence about smoking and inter-generational poverty (see also this World Health Organisation article) and about how people who have less, smoke more. Also, regional centres have higher smoking figures than metropolitan centres. Clearly, people are either a) finding solace for their poverty in nicotine, or b) are finding it harder to quit if they are poor.

There are many justifications for this. You can relate poorer educational backgrounds to a lower ability to rationalise the effect that your 10 minute fix has on you or your budget. You can cite the lack of other stimulating experiences to combat smoking. But at the end of the day, when poor families are spending much of their disposable income on cigarettes and booze, you have to be concerned.

I appeared this morning in the Debtor's court at a series of Investigation and Examination summonses. This is where people who have had judgement on a debt can have the debtor examined, and the Registrar of the Court makes an Order for repayment. The debtor is required to fill in a financial statement which is given to the creditor (or the lawyer representing them, IE., me) who then cross examines them on the contents. These statements cover all their income and expenditures, including food, mortgage repayments, rent, bills, child-care costs, etc.

I had a debtor today who spent over $300 per fortnight on cigarettes. He owed a total of about $1,800 to the creditor I was representing, and had defaulted on several payments already. Based on his fortnightly income, he had about $135 per fortnight left over after all of his costs. He was effectively spending nearly 70% of his disposable income on cigarettes.

As mentioned previously, I don't smoke. I probably drink a bit too much, but that is always the first thing to go when money gets tight. My wife and I exist on a single income with two lots of rent (she lives in town where she is studying, I rent a room in a house in the city where I work), and significant travel expenses, however we still manage to make ends meet.

I have met couples earning MORE than us on Centrelink benefits who never seem to have any leftover income, and are usually far in debt on a credit card. In almost every case, they smoke like chimneys.

On the other hand, I have met single mothers on Centrelink benefits who are paying off a mortgage, putting their kids through school, and still having enough to pay for their children's sports clubs.

Given the huge noise about the extra expenses of the carbon tax, this splurge on extravagances post-handouts seems to indicate that people really don't care that much about it, or at least aren't worried enough to try to save the dosh.

Post-script: I mean no offence to people out there who are seriously battling addictions to cigarettes or alcohol. If you have taken steps to address your issues, then you are so far ahead of the crowd that my comments just don't apply to you. You have my respect and congratulations.

If you are bitching about the cost of your power bill, while sucking down on a XXXX Gold and smoking your 20th cigarette today, then you are what is wrong with this country.

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