Centrelink told this man to look for a job
Almost eight months ago, loving father-of-two Robert Laughlin received the news everyone dreads: you've got cancer.
Robert is a single father to sons Max, 14 and Tiger, 17, who lost their mother to breast cancer only eighteen months ago-an event that took its toll on their young boys, especially now that their father is battling Stage 3 bowel cancer.
After being admitted to a Melbourne hospital almost seven weeks ago, the 54-year-old father and former builder is unable to drink, eat, speak and can barely move, now being fed through a feeding tube.
Deemed well enough for work
"Instead of being able to swallow food, it was going down his oesophagus and lungs-basically drowning in what he was eating and drinking," his sister Sarah Laughlin told Kidspot.
Despite Robert's condition, Centrelink denied his Disability Support Pension application-thus deeming him well enough to complete the Newstart Allowance requirements-that is, to report every two weeks, and apply for at least 20 jobs a month: a difficult task when it's a struggle to move or speak.
"In the last nearly seven weeks, he's been in hospital and hasn't been able to talk, let alone get out of bed," Sarah said.
"He's in no position to contact anybody."
Robert's payments (now reinstated) had been suspended due to a lack of reporting. His family said his DSP application was refused because his condition wasn't "permanent".
Last Friday night, Sarah made a social media post expressing her outrage, which has now been shared over 6,000 times.
"Take a good look and ask yourself: do you think this man can call you every two weeks to maintain his Newstart Allowance?" Sarah wrote.
"Do you think this man is in any position to apply for work?"
"After 35 years of paying taxes, this is as good as you can do in his time of need."
"This is an injustice."
Sarah believes significant change is needed to support those who, like Robert, cannot support themselves, and are too unwell to jump the government payment hoops. "It's the system we have. There's a systematic failure for people like Robert."
"But this story is not just about him. It's about everybody who is dealing with Centrelink with the issues Robert has."
"I get angry because Robert is in need. It's just horrifying. I can't explain how angry I am."
"The Centrelink system needs to be reviewed."
All down to legislation
After an investigation by Kidspot, the Department of Human Services offered to contact Robert's family about their situation to see if they can provide further assistance.
"We recognise medical conditions can have a significant impact on people's lives," General Manager Hank Jongen said.
"However, we do not have any discretion to grant payments outside the very clear criteria set down in legislation."
Mr Jorgen said it's important to note that DSP eligibility isn't just based on a diagnosis, but the impact of that diagnosis on a person's ability to work. In order to attain the DSP, the condition must be permanent, fully-diagnosed, treated and stabilised before department health professionals are able to assess the situation.
Robert may, however, be able to claim temporary exemptions from mutual obligations on medical grounds.
Not the man he was:
While Robert is expected to recover, Sarah, 55, is still emotional at her younger brother's condition. "I look at that [photo] and I cry because that's not the man he was 12 months ago."
"Two weeks ago, I came home and told my husband I was really scared for Robert."
It's been a tough eighteen months for the family since the boys' mother passed from Stage 4 breast cancer.
While Robert and Tanya had been separated for almost eight years, the pair shared custody of their sons and still had a supportive relationship-though Max and Tiger were unaware about their mother's diagnosis until the very end. Robert, by contrast, has been very open with his sons-who say they're doing okay.
"We're not getting much from them. But having family around has gone a long way to help," Sarah said.
"We've pulled together around those boys and supported them."
Robert's sister Jane Ramsay, 53, flew all the way from California to help look after the boys, as well as youngest sister and Melbourne local Yvette Laughlin, 50. Even Robert's community has rallied around the family, with the Diamond Creek Junior Football Club planning on hosting an event for the family, having already raised over $4,000.
"Focus is getting him better"
Robert has been unable to work since last December-and he's probably not going to be well enough to work in the next six months, either. While his single parent payments are enough to send his sons to school, it's not paying all the bills-not to mention medical, rehabilitation, housekeeping and nursing costs for when Robert returns from hospital.
"Our focus is getting him better."
Sarah also wants to send a message to Aussies, urging them to complete cancer screening tests.
"It's easily treatable if detected early. In Robert's case, it wasn't."
Robert was first diagnosed with a blood cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, at age 21-and then again at 23 and 25, before his diagnosis of bowel cancer late last year.
"Robert says he's been hit with the unlucky stick so many times, it's got to get good sometime."
Visit Robert's Go Fund me page here.
This story was originally published on Kidspot and has been republished here with permission.