Government, Business Support Critical to Breaking Welfare Dependency
18 April 2011 at 10:46 am
Australian welfare agencies have called on the Government to provide greater support for long-term unemployed people looking to enter the workforce, following the Prime Minister’s recent statements about breaking welfare dependency.
Prime Minister Julie Gillard delivered an address to the Sydney Institute recently, where she warned of a tight budget ahead as Australia enters a period of record fiscal consolidation.
Gillard’s speech, which focused largely on breaking welfare dependency by moving people on welfare into work, has Not for Profit and welfare agencies worried about the extent of welfare cuts in next month’s Federal budget.
Responding to the speech, the Australian Council of Social Service says that getting more people off income support and into paid work will require proper investment in case management, skills and training, a paid work experience program, and incentives for employers to take people on.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie says she welcomes the government’s commitment to support more people who are looking for paid work, however the Federal Government must take up its share of responsibility to help those currently locked out of the jobs market to break back in, and financially support those who are doing it tough. She says employers must also do their part.
Dr Goldie says what’s needed at a time of near full employment is a serious evaluation of why it is that a group of people remain shut out of the paid workforce – not tougher talk or bigger sticks.
She says people who are long-term unemployed are currently living on $34 a day (the amount of the Government’s Newstart allowance) and are already expected to look for 10 jobs a fortnight, and must accept job offers or face having an 8 week suspension of their payments.
She says reasons that people are shut-out of the workforce include disabilities, age discrimination, and the mismatch between the skills of unemployed people (over half have less than year 12), and what employers need.
Dr Goldie says these problems will not be resolved in a single Budget and the Government should consult widely and publicly to set a blueprint for improving paid workforce participation.
She says it will require greater investment in more case management so job services providers can properly assess the needs of long-term unemployed people.
Dr Goldie says providers are funded to interview long term unemployed job-seekers once every two months, and are only provided $500 to get each long term unemployed person job ready – compared to $4,400 spent to keep each person in the Northern Territory on income management, which Dr Goldie says has no proven financial benefits.
Dr Goldie says employers also need to do their bit – by providing more supports and advice to employ people with disabilities, Indigenous people, mature aged people, and others who have been locked out of the jobs market.
Major welfare service provider UnitingCare Australia has called for a national dialogue between the welfare sector, unions, employer groups and Government to make sensible inroads into the plight of long-term unemployed Australians.
Speaking shortly after the Prime Minister delivered her address, UnitingCare National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said the answer to welfare reform lies in addressing labour market factors, anomalies in the income support system, and helping individuals to overcome the personal and systemic barriers that have prevented them from getting and keeping a job.
Hatfield Dobbs warned that the reform debate is in danger of sliding into an unhelpful blame game – she said these are complex, interrelated issues and can only be resolved if all parties involved work together to find effective and lasting solutions.
She said long term unemployed people are seen as a risk by many employers, and all parties need to work together to minimise the risk or change the risk profile.
She said there are a decreasing number of entry level jobs, and while any job is welcome, low skilled jobs are often short-term, casual placements in retail, hospitality and agriculture. The income support system must recognise that people will cycle in and out of jobs, not because they are slack, but because that’s how the labour market works.
The UnitingCare network provides social services to over 2 million people each year in remote, rural and metropolitan Australia.