Dianne Trussell is struggling to live off her disability pension. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Dianne Trussell is struggling to live off her disability pension. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

Dying to live off the pension

LIVING off a disability support pension was the last thing former scientist and writer Dianne Trussell expected to be doing in her life.

But in 2010 she developed two severe bacterial infections, leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis - which severely compromised her health.

Her heart, kidneys and vision were all affected, while another potentially fatal symptom of the infections was an abnormal heart beat.

It unfolded that at the same time she was made redundant, while the sickness and some problems with her internet service contributed to the collapse of her part-time web-based business.

By that point, Dianne's world had been turned upside down and she needed help.

"I was in and out of ambulances, I was really sick I couldn't pay the rent anymore, I needed desperately to get some kind of assistance," she explained.

Unfortunately when she turned to Centrelink to apply for a disability payment, she said their attitude was - because she had no children - that she was a "persona non grata".

It ended up taking her two years to qualify for the disability pension.

Four years later, surviving off the $900 a fortnight payment while trying to get better is still proving an uphill battle.

Here's one issue: most of the medicines Dianne needs aren't covered by Medicare.

To afford those, she needs to put off dental care and essential things like new tyres and rego.

She also explained that none of her money is wasted on alcohol or cigarettes, or films or television.

"What I do put my money into is high quality food and my healthcare," she said.

"I try to run my car only when I have a multitude of things to do in one trip.

"I do have websites and a broadband plan... because my goal is to actually build a business which can actually pay me, to get off the pension and have some independence."

In the Northern Rivers around 30% of people are reliant on some kind of welfare payment - double that of the nearest capital Brisbane - and the payment is going down in real terms, as the rises fail to keep pace with inflation.

With the lack of services and transport in the regions, it can be a struggle for many to stay living in a way that is going to get them ahead and hopefully off the pension. 

"The things that you do to try to get off the pension cost money… the medical and dental, the insurance, the car the rent the food, the website and broadband is basically more than the pension," Dianne said.

"I don't want to stay on it... I don't want to be beholden to the government."


The combined percentage of people on one or more of the following welfare payments: Newstart, the disability support pension, Abstudy and Austudy, the aged pension, youth allowance, single parent payments and sickness benefits:

Lismore 31%

Byron 27%

Ballina 28%

Casino 35%

Kyogle 34%

Brisbane 15%

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